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IoT is meant to reduce or even eliminate human-to-human and human-to-computer interaction, and its healthcare mission is no different. The use of connected wristbands, beds and beacons in & outside health facilities offers a new level of automation and convenience, enabling hospitals to reduce operating costs, improve diagnosis and increase life expectancy of patients. The Internet of Things and healthcare go hand and hand. Here’s why.
Internet of Things in healthcare: applications & benefits
- Improved diagnosis and treatment. Watson, the famous Geopardy-winning computer designed by IBM, is probably the best example of how the Internet of Things healthcare works. The computer relies on machine learning (branch of Artificial Intelligence) to make medical decisions based on case studies and patient records from all over the world. It is already better at diagnosing cancer (90% accuracy) than most human doctors (about 50% accuracy). There’s no magic to it. Only 20% of data used by well-trained doctors is trial-based. In order to keep up with the latest medicine news a physician would have to read reports, case studies and articles for 160 hours a week (not much time’s left for actual work, right?) A computer needs considerably less time to absorb data, and that’s where the future of healthcare lies. The adoption of smart beds and medication dispensers is a new way to improve patient treatment. Patients with chronic conditions (diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure) who maintain 80-100% medication adherence are 17% less likely to be hospitalized than patients who neglect to take prescribed drugs. The issue is especially urgent among the elderly. Using smart dispensers like MedMinder (a gadget with built-in cellular connection that sends alert notifications when the container needs refilling or patients forget to take pills), GlowPack (a visual/audio pill reminder; GlowPack also generates weekly and monthly adherence reports, enabling doctors to evaluate the effect of treatment) and AdhereTech (smart bottles that give you a call every time you miss medication schedule), hospitals can significantly reduce readmission rates and provide better treatment to patients with lifelong diseases;
- Workflow optimization. The use of IoT bracelets and IDs in healthcare institutions can help authorities identify bottlenecks and manage their personnel and assets more effectively. Here’s an example. Birmingham-based Heartlands Hospital partnered with Zebra Technologies to develop a patient monitoring system which incorporates printed RFID tags embedded in wristbands, electronic patient records and a personal digital assistant powered by local network. The solution allows doctors to access patient data at any given moment through scanning their unique ID numbers. The new system boosted operating theatres efficiency by almost 20%. Similar technologies (AirFinder, AwarePoint) which use beacons and motion sensors help medical institutions monitor equipment, staff and patients in real time. Promising tech startups (Simplifeye) also build cloud solutions that connect smartphones and wearables to hospital enterprise software, enabling personnel to access patient records from any gadget at hand (including Apple Watch). Don’t forget about Google Glass, too. Although the device was met with mixed reviews from tech experts, it can be successfully implemented in operating theatres. Dr. Pierre Theodore, a lung surgeon who’s been using the gadget for over three months, claims the technology can indeed streamline complicated operations by offering timely access to x-ray images;
- Cost reduction. In 2016 US healthcare spending will top $ 1.2 trillion, consuming a great share of state resources. According to Pittsburg Regional Heath Initiative, over 50% of hospital readmissions come from patients with chronic conditions. Provided medical institutions adopt IoT technologies for remote healthcare monitoring, half of these readmissions could be potentially avoided. Let’s take diabetes, for example. 99% of diabetes care falls to self-management. Thanks to connected gadgets like Insulin Angel (tracks the temperature at which the medication is stored) and Dario (checks blood sugar in mere seconds), patients with Type 1-2 diabetes are now able to reduce insulin wastage – and hospital overload. Same concerns patients who suffer from dementia and spend their final years at nursing facilities. Earlier this year UK National Health Service announced the Test Beds program, introducing seven types of connected beds enhanced with movement sensors, wearable devices and connected monitors. The beds will enable elderly patients to say in their own homes longer and provide real-time data for remote health monitoring.
We have a long way to go, of course. Currently smart beds cannot be integrated with breathing machines or stationary blood pressure monitors because IoT interoperability issue remains unsolved. And no, you can’t switch Google Glass off in a hands-free mode or perform a surgery without a technician placed in the same room. What other factors slow down the Internet of Things adoption in healthcare?
IoT in healthcare: obstacles and possible solutions
- Security. Back in 2011 Jay Radcliffe, a security researcher who suffers from Type 1 diabetes, wrote a malicious computer program in order to hack his insulin pump. Using the malware, he could disable the gadget or – which is even worse – increase or lower the amount of insulin injected into his body. 5 years on, we still live in a world of vulnerable connected things. Most hospitals struggle to keep up with the latest trends (mHealth and Bring Your Own Device in particular) and currently reinforce their security policies. In 2015, strong authentication and data encryption were the top areas of concern for US health IT professionals. Andrey Pozhogin, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Kaspersky Lab, claims very few IoT devices are developed with security in mind – partially because the technologies that enable their communication are viewed as a protective measure (you can’t hack a connected gadget unless you know its exact location or interact with it from a relatively small distance). The good news is, the majority of security flaws threatening further adoption of the Internet of Things in healthcare were discovered in mobile and web applications years ago.Provided you address a software vendor who has great experience in mobile application and embedded system development, your gadget will pose no threat to patient data security;
- Information overload. The integration of smart gadgets and medical equipment surely offers multiple benefits to healthcare organizations, but there’s a catch. By 2018, connected gadgets will annually produce 403 ZB of raw data. Who’s going to capture and analyze it – and, what’s more important, is there a chance that doctors will be even more distracted from their core activities than they are now? That’s why the global adoption of the Internet of Things in healthcare is not going to happen without Artificial Intelligence; remember Watson’s incredible ability to quickly absorb large amounts of data and make better decisions?
- Unclear benefits. According to Gartner, IT departments in healthcare organizations often operate on budgets that do not fit hospital requirements and strategies or pursue different goals. There’s a clear mismatch of interests: few hospitals view healthcare delivery as a business, and developers continue to drive innovation for its own sake. If you are 100% sure your Internet of Things gadget offers ultimate benefits to both patients and healthcare organizations, you can’t be too serious about pitching your idea to decision-makers. That’s why you should prepare Proof of Concept, define use cases for the device, build prototypes and bring your arguments upfront. The guys from Insulin Angel, for example, claim their gadget can potentially help hospitals save up to $ 8 thousand per year on discarded insulin – and turn to case studies to back up their statement. You don’t have relevant experience and research facilities? Well, you can always trust R&D to a reliable software development company.
Last year digital health funding increased by 20%, topping $ 5 billion. By 2020, the IoT healthcare market will be worth $ 117 billion. As long as your gadget solves a real-world problem (and you don’t mess with the tech part!), you’ll definitely earn your place in the sun.