Healthcare is certainly one of the most vital industries we have, however it does have its own set of complexity, strict regulations, and social responsibilities, and it is highly dependent on Technology and Innovations to gain more adaptability among the investors and users. Although the healthcare industry has been on a constant transformation spree for the last couple of decades, the recent COVID pandemic has exposed lot many inefficiencies and vulnerabilities in this sector, and there is no doubt that these challenges could be overcome only by using advanced technology.
Internet of Things has unleashed a variety of Healthcare IT solutions, that can help the service providers to enhance the healthcare services once the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 slowdown. Though telemedicine and remote sensing medical devices are in use for quite some time now, due to the emergence of IoT, the underlying technology for the healthcare sector has been evolved manyfold in recent years.
IoT has ensured that we have an interconnected network of intelligent devices, which are very much capable of analyzing the situation and then make wise decisions, several devices can work in tandem, and then send information to the cloud.
Internet of Things for Healthcare Industry
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It has been observed that if we combine IoT with other emerging technologies, then it can revolutionize the healthcare industry completely, it will not only transform the way patients could be monitored or treated remotely but also enhance the productivity of healthcare resources and improve the effectiveness of the healthcare processes and workflows as well.
According to a Brand Essence market research, the potential market of IoT in healthcare could exceed $10 billion by the year 2024. IoT is gradually getting traction due to other emerging technologies like Cloud Computing, 5G Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, or Machine Learning.
According to report by Brand Essence Research IoT in Healthcare Market is valued at USD 113.53 Billion in 2020 and expected to reach USD 388.18 Billion by 2027 with the CAGR of 19.20% over the forecast period.
We can also say that IoT is a concept build around the method of full ubiquitous computing, that is the processing of information associated with an external object or activity. Ubiquitous computing consists of the interconnection of electronic devices equipped with microprocessors and radio sensors, which help them to communicate with each other and exchange vital information.
IoT in the healthcare sector is indeed an example of this omnipresent computing. For example, thousands of intelligent IoT electronic devices can be installed at a hospital, which can monitor patients’ health status round the clock, interact with each other, make informed decisions, and transfer the information to a Cloud platform.
How IoT Works In Healthcare?
In general terms, an IoT device could be considered as a device with a sensor/radio, which can interact with the physical world and transmit information with the help of the internet. Such devices can capture different types of patient information or receive inputs from healthcare professionals. Here an example is a CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitoring) for insulin pens, which works to capture and transmit the data of diabetic patients.
IoT devices create an ecosystem, where they communicate with each other, and help healthcare professionals to take critical actions to help their patients, or even save their life. For example, an IoT wearable device can take an intelligent decision to contact the healthcare facility, if an elderly patient is experiencing any health-related emergency.
IoT devices keep on collecting the passive data and then send this information to the cloud, which helps healthcare professionals to make informed decisions. They can either simply view the patient status or can call an ambulance or initiate an emergency protocol if required.
IoT Workflow Process for Healthcare
IoT devices operate in the following fashion:
- An IoT device contains a sensor, that collects data from patients, or it can capture the data input from doctors/nurses.
- Then IoT device utilizes AI-driven algorithms like Machine Learning to analyze the collected data.
- Then the IoT device decides if it needs to act on the given information or just send it to the cloud.
- IoT devices provide valuable information to doctors, healthcare professionals, and robots so that they can make informed and actionable decisions.
Though here it is important to understand that not all IoT devices contain sensors, they need at least a radio and TCP/IP address, that can help them communicate via the Internet.
IoT devices used for Healthcare
IoT devices have literally swept the healthcare sector, from wearables devices to automatic medication machines, you will find them everywhere. These devices could be used for tracking heart pulse to clinical efficiency, all lead to improving the health conditions of patients. Let’s look at some of the popular IoT devices for the healthcare sector.
These are the most common wearables IoT device, that is used by almost everyone these days. It comes with a sensor with an internet connection capability, which can help these devices to monitor heart parameters, sugar levels, detect seizures, and assist in speech treatment.
Smart Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) and Insulin Pens –
This device monitors blood glucose levels and transmits that data to a smartphone application. Patients with diabetes can utilize this device to keep a track of their glucose levels, whereas the doctors can suggest to them any change in diet or medication based on the captured data.
Brain Swelling Sensors –
This IoT device contains a small sensor, that can be implanted within the cranium to assist the neurosurgeons to monitor brain injuries and other deathly swellings. This device can measure the pressure on different parts of the brain and then send that information to the doctors, who can take appropriate action. The sensor can dissolve by itself in the body without any sort of medical interference.
Ingestible Sensors –
This is a very small-sized medical sensor, that can be swallowed along with the prescribed medication. It sends signals to a wearable receiver and an associated smartphone application. This small IoT device helps doctors monitor patients’ medication and ensure they adhere to the schedule.
Smart Video Pills –
It is a very tiny smart pill, which can be swallowed by the patient, then it travels through a patient’s intestinal tract and captures snaps of the digestive system and intestines. It collects the data and then transfers that to a wearable device, which in turn transmits it to a dedicated mobile application, from where the healthcare professionals can visualize the colon and gastrointestinal tract remotely and prescribe the necessary treatment.
ECG monitoring device –
This is a wearable device that can collect ECG data such as heartbeat, oxygen level, cholesterol, and blood pressure of the patient. This device can capture other information like potential heart issues, sugar level, and sudden weight gain to the clinics without even visiting them for tests. The ECH monitoring device is connected with software, that can be installed on the user’s smartphone.
Asthma IoT device –
This device is indeed a sensor, that could be connected to the top of an asthma pump. This device contains a sensor that monitors the data when it is used by the patient, and it makes it very easy to manage COPD and asthma. The captured data is transmitted to the doctor via a smartphone application, who can assess the data and prescribe any further action. This device makes the treatment quite easy, where patients could be treated on time without even visiting hospitals.
Medication Dispensing Devices –
Most of the patients find it difficult to adhere to the medication schedule. This IoT device could be pre-programmed with the required medicine dosage, which can notify the patient when it’s the time to take medicine. Once the patient takes the medication, the device sends that information back to the doctor, which helps them to keep a track of medication, if any dosage is missed, the doctor will get an alert, and then they can take the necessary course correction.
IoT Analytical Cloud –
An IoT-based cloud can be used to store patient records, it can also perform a different kind of analysis on disease-related data. Healthcare professionals can utilize IoT analytical cloud to perform analysis on Clinical reports, Bio-Magnetic data, cardiac scans, and several other diagnostic reports. These tools can help save millions of dollars for a hospital by automating the analytics workflows.
Benefits of IoT in Healthcare
IoT offers many benefits for the healthcare sector, which is why organizations are rushing to implement an IoT-based system. Here it is important to note that several benefits of IoT in healthcare may outrun the implementation of connected technology in other sectors due to their business value.
Here are few benefits of IoT in the healthcare sector:
Faster processing of patient data –
IoT helps doctors to process a huge amount of patient information in few minutes with ease, which otherwise may take several hours and efforts. In addition, if the Internet of Things could be combined with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, it can help doctors to offer all the possible treatment options quickly, as they can get all the relevant information and past trends about the health of patients.
Enhances capabilities of preventive medicine –
IoT can provide the necessary data to the healthcare professionals, which can help them understand the condition the patient is in and prescribe the medicine and treatment accordingly. This information enables doctors to observe the changes and address potential issues without waiting for symptoms to become obvious. We can combine IoT with Artificial Intelligence technology, to avail the benefits of data analytics, which offers vital information to determine preventative medicine for patients.
Less Risk of Errors and Miscalculation –
Medical treatment and medicine development allows almost zero margin of error, though sometimes it is not achievable due to the involvement of human, as human errors do occur. Sometimes, doctors may take the wrong measurement or conclusion, sometimes healthcare professionals may mix up the test results. Such errors due to human factors can lead to some serious consequences. However, with IoT usage, such errors could be avoided with adequate checks and balances in place. Human experience coupled with Machine intelligence can certainly enhance diagnostic accuracy.
Enhanced Mobility of hospital resources –
This is among the biggest benefits IoT offers, that can make a huge difference for the front-line staff of any hospital. In times of COVID pandemic, patients need immediate attention from healthcare staff, who are already over-worked and contributing beyond their usual capabilities. Healthcare staff needs technology and tools, that can help them track hundreds of patients in real-time. An IoT-based tracking system can help them get vital alerts if there is any critical change observed in a patient’s parameters so that they can immediately locate the patient and administer the necessary treatment.
Better Drug management and adherence –
IoT-aided medical applications can assist doctors and other healthcare professionals to remotely determine if a patient has taken the drugs or not. In case of non-adherence, the staff can call and remind the patient about the drug schedule. This whole process could be automated as well, which makes it more efficient and cost-effective, and of course, it will reduce unnecessary human involvement and several other overheads.
End-to-end connectivity and affordability –
The IoT in healthcare applications can use the latest communication technology to improve data connectivity and sharing. IoT can use technologies like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to keep a track of potential illness, which makes it very easy, less time-consuming, and cost-effective as well, which makes the cost of treatment affordable for patients.
Simultaneous Reporting and Monitoring –
Internet of Things in the healthcare industry has given a big helping hand to the doctors, as they can monitor the vital parameters of a patient in real-time, and then help them to prevent emergencies like diabetes, blood pressure, heart failure, cardiac arrest, and asthma attack. The medical reports of patients such as ECG reports, blood sugar levels reports, X-ray scans can be stored in the Cloud and could be accessed with a mobile device remotely.
Deep Research in Healthcare –
The Internet of Things plays an important role in the deep research of medicine and other healthcare areas. With the help of IoT, we can capture the data and then research the given data. A recent example is COVID-19 vaccine development, where IoT applications were used to perform deep research on different variants in a very short period. IoT devices can transmit the data across all the geographic locations within a fraction of seconds, this makes it easy to share the research data without having a further cost and technical overhead.
IT Integration & Cyber-Security in Healthcare –
Hospitals store massive data files which are crucial for patient care and required from time to time. As the data is confidential and related to the patient, hence cyber-security is a big concern to keep the data secure from any sort of attacks and breaches. IoT-based cloud servers are adequately protected by next-gen systems, which makes it almost impossible for a hacker to breach the security firewalls.
The Future of Healthcare with IoT Technology
The applications of IoT in the healthcare and medical sector are quite abundant and it also involves a wide range of technologies and tools. From sensor-equipped wearable devices to futuristic robots, from medicine delivery drones to Machine Learning based data analytics and predictive modeling mechanism, IoT offers a plethora of services for this sector.
Following are the technologies that could be coupled with IoT to offer innovative solutions in the future.
UAV Technology –
UAV technologies are gaining traction in the medical supply chain and the future looks quite promising. Few startups have started using drones for delivering medicines to patients for home treatment, especially in remote areas. In a couple of African countries, drones are even used to transport donor blood. IoT technology can be integrated with UAVs and drones to make this entire service effective.
RFID technology –
RFIDs are already been used in healthcare for quite some time, and due to their benefits, technology firms are working on the development of IoT healthcare solutions, that could be integrated with the RFID technology. RFID could be paired with other Internet of Things solutions for healthcare to perform inventory management, patient monitoring, drug tracking, resource management, and several other kinds of activities. RFID labels and tags have various types of applications for resource tracking and sanitation control for a hospital.
We can pair the Medical IoT devices with mobile applications, that can unleash an innovative model of communication and connectivity between doctors and patients. It will allow remote patients to avail themselves of the clinical services along with several other services such as primary care, remote consultation, reminders, monitoring, intervention, and remote admissions.
Wearable Healthcare devices –
These devices can be used by the patients to transmit vital information to the doctors. Most common devices like watches, bracelets, fit-bit bands and other trackers consist of few sensors, that help them to capture vital parameters of patients like heart rate, pulse rate, blood pressure, blood sugar. This information is then sent to the doctors or hospitals for further analysis and customized treatment.
Diagnosis and Preventive medicine –
IoT devices can be utilized to capture Patient records, treatment progress, test results, and other data to enhance diagnostic accuracy and lead the development of preventive medicine.
Challenges of IoT in Healthcare
Internet of Things in healthcare does encounter many challenges and limitations, due to technology and other constraints.
Device Performance –
We have a variety of devices for healthcare services, hence the integration of IoT for different devices is indeed a big challenge and it may cause problems as far as device performance is concerned. Another challenge could be the compatibility between different devices connected through the IoT networks, as any sort of compatibility issue may impact the process of data transfer, analysis, and retrieval.
IoT System Cost –
We know that IoT will help organizations to save huge amounts as far as the cost of treatment and time is concerned. However, the initial investment to procure the IoT devices for the healthcare sector is certainly a big challenge, as hospitals must invest thousands to a few million USD to set up a basic IoT device infrastructure in their facilities. Apart from that, the management and support for such an IoT-based system are quite costly now.
Data Security and Privacy –
With the emergence of technology, user data has become vulnerable for all sorts of security and privacy concerns, hence we can say to protect data privacy and making the infrastructure secure are among the biggest challenges for IoT. The IoT mainly operates on the transfer and storage of a massive amount of user data, and any data breach can have unpredictable consequences for users and hospitals. The data could be misused, could be sold to unauthorized people, hackers can create fake IDs to procure prescribed medicines and other stuff and then misuse them. Data breach and misuse could cost millions of USD in legal obligations; hence this is a big concern and should be addressed properly while making an IoT-based system.
Database Cost and Management –
IoT works on a massive amount of data, and Doctors or hospitals are storing this data which puts pressure on the existing IT infrastructure and Database systems. It put cost and management constraints on the healthcare service provider. With the increasing number of patients, the data will obviously scale up, and it will increase the cost of an additional database system, also not managing the database efficiently may lead to data loss or manipulation, which could pose a risk to a patient’s life and hospital’s reputation.
Internet of Things has emerged as a technology, which can help us find solutions to many day-to-day problems in almost every possible sector. If we talk about the Healthcare sector, then there is no doubt that IoT technology is unstoppable and growing in leaps and bounds, despite its limitations and challenges. IoT has already cemented its place and has created a large impact in the healthcare sector and it is helping healthcare service providers to connect with every potential patient all over the world with hospitals and healthcare professionals.
There is not an iota of doubt, that future of IoT is bright and the healthcare apps will be operated by advanced IoT technologies and it will also help healthcare service providers to keep the cost low and affordable for all sorts of customers. Many big technology firms are already working to make Healthcare and IoT a winning combination to provide an enhanced experience to the patients.
Rahul Mathur is the founder and managing director of ARKA Softwares, a company renowned for its outstanding mobile app development and web development solutions. Delivering high-end modern solutions all over the globe, Rahul takes pleasure in sharing his experiences and views on the latest technological trends.