Medicine has not been immune to the wave of digitization that’s reshaped so many other aspects of life. With the growth of IoT and the advent of its corollary IoMT (Internet of Medical Things), the paradigm for modern healthcare has shifted. Indeed, estimates suggest that the healthcare IoT market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 29.9 percent to reach $322.2 billion by 2025.
Medicine is, after all, a science and science, by definition, is data driven; which is precisely why the demand for IoMT technologies is so high. IoMT can be a difference maker first and foremost in its ability to passively collect millions of additional data points and automatically feed them into processing and management systems.
IoT At Work: More Than What You See
The rapid increase in healthcare costs and the constantly changing patient demands have created a perfect landscape for the widespread transformation of the healthcare industry. This article delineates 4 widely applicable IoT use cases poised to have a major impact on healthcare going forward.
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)
Probably the most intuitive and accessible example of a transformative IoT uses case in healthcare is remote patient monitoring (RPM). The combination of discreet health data collection and reporting devices along with smart management systems and virtual doctor visits has profoundly expanded the range of possibilities for effective outpatient care and remote monitoring. These newfound capabilities are not only significant in their own right, but they have a powerful ripple effect across the entire healthcare landscape — helping to alleviate some of the strain placed on HDOs' infrastructure, resources, and service capacity. The more robust and capable RPM offerings become, the better hospitals will be positioned to effectively and sustainably deliver care both on an off premise.
Some RPM IoT use cases even involve in-body sensors designed to automatically contact care providers should vital recovery and health management signs fall outside of physician defined ranges.
Chronic Disease Management
IoT is also being used to address recurring health problems and chronic diseases, including major afflictions such as diabetes and heart disease as well as more mundane conditions such as asthma and sleep disorders. As it relates to these diseases, wearable tech, next-gen analytics, mobile connectivity, and smart automation come together to make an IoT use case for streamlining management and improving outcomes. Of course, chronic disease management actually has a fair amount of overlap with RPM since — to riff on the old saying — "you can't manage what you don't monitor".
Consider the following example. A chronic arrhythmia patient is fitted with a wearable ECG device that automatically reads, records, and relays his heartbeat. In this case, the patient suffers from a host of medical effects and potential risks resulting from an abnormal heartbeats. The patient is likely to experience frequent fatigue, dizziness and fainting. If the condition is not monitored and appropriate interventions are not taken in a timely manner, cardiac arrest and death may even result. At the same time, on an everyday basis, the symptoms can be very subtle and the signs of a problematic development can be difficult for the patient to identify. In this example, the IoT use case for chronic disease management saves everyone time and energy while ultimately delivering a superior medical service. Without this novel application of internet connected devices, the patient would have to make regular appointments for lengthy examinations and a battery of intrusive tests — including induced cardiac stress tests. Even then, frequent testing is obviously not as good as continuous monitoring.
Medical Asset Performance Management
Loosing track of critical medical devices is a disaster in the healthcare industry. In fact, it is estimated that in most hospitals, nurses spend as much as 20% of their time tracking down missing medical supplies and equipment. Even when all devices are accounted for in a hospital’s inventory management system, their physical whereabouts are seldom accurately reflected. This is a big problem for devices like infusion pumps and patient monitors that routinely move from patient to patient and place to place. When you consider the fact that staff is the largest cost driver in healthcare — accounting for 60-70% of a hospital’s operating budget—you begin to appreciate just what a massive waste of time, money, and human resources that amounts to.
Suppose a patient presents with stomach pains. The symptoms and visible signs exhibited are indeterminate and the patient is referred for further examination to the gastroenterology department. Now, suppose hospital staff cannot manage to locate a portable ultrasound machine anywhere in the wing. Diagnosis is delayed, treatment is delayed, inefficiencies increase, costs grow. The best-case scenario is that you waste some of the patient’s and your staff’s time. The worst-case scenario is, well, a lot worse.
Conversely, when hospital staff knows what is needed where, why, and with what regularity not only can they more smoothly manage the ward, but they can also more intelligently plan patient flows. Similarly, being able to agilely provide resources and quickly move devices to the areas of greatest need can have a very significant impact on patient experience, care capacity, and throughput.
Physical location tracking and device availability planning are just some of the immediately appreciable upshots of IoT in healthcare. Another would be repair and maintenance management. The CyberMDX Control Center, for example, can be used to identify ideal maintenance windows for high-value and high-criticality medical devices. In this way, maintenance schedules can be streamlined based on actual device usage to avoid unplanned downtime and lost availability.
The benefit of such a dynamically data-driven approach is that the system is neither reactive (with repair costs and lost productivity far exceeding what could have been spent on) nor preventive (with a safer-than-sorry approach that endorses excessive serving and gratuitous planned downtime), but prescriptive. Any metrics that signal something wrong can immediately be sent to the concerned authority, facilitating smart, measured intervention.
Drug management has significantly benefitted from IoT and is being widely acknowledged as one of the most exciting medical breakthroughs. Specially designed pills containing microscopic sensors as small as a rice grain, for example, can be ingested along with oral medication and provide a real-time internal reading of the drug's efficiency, effectiveness, and metabolization of the drug — communicating its findings to the network and other IoT-enabled devices. These smart pills are also designed to digitally connect to a patch worn on the body in order to facilitate more personalized drug regimens and ensure appropriate dosage and administration over time.
Another example of IoT making strides in drug management is the Weka Smart Fridge for vaccines. This smart refrigerator ensures that vaccines are stored at the recommended temperature at all times — reducing spoilage and maintaining efficacy. The system also monitors inventory to improve dosing accuracy, and more intelligent vaccination program planning based on regional, seasonal, and longitudinal infection trends. The fridge also includes a built-in secondary power unit to avoid possible complications stemming from energy reliability issues.
Putting IoMT Into Perspective
The Internet of Things (or IoT) is a network of physical devices, interconnected via the internet and communicating to optimize operations, synchronize information and make human life easier and more efficient. That core concept and its predicate technology have slowly but surely invaded every industry and most enterprise level businesses. Healthcare is no exception.
When applied to the right use cases, IoT technologies offer the perfect delivery mechanism for non-intrusive, low-touch, semi-autonomous solutions. These solutions expand capabilities, accelerate processing, reduce human errors, and shed overhead.
The Internet of Things has already taken the broader technology and business worlds by storm, now it's about to do the same for healthcare. In watching this transformation unfold, pay particular attention to remote patient monitoring, chronic disease management, medical asset performance management, and drug administration.