More often than not, we use trackers to measure our daily activity and keep a healthy lifestyle. Technology is already a part of our workout routine or our whereabouts around town. However, technology is basically married to us, and is here to stay, in health, but also in sickness. So how can IoT help people when they require medical attention?
When a patient needs to be in hospital, there is so much Internet of Things can do to help them during their stay. Biosensors are the most obvious element to keep track of the patients’ health, recording their temperature, heart rate and glucose levels, amongst others. These parameters have traditionally been recorded by the hospital’s staff manually, but IoT allows to keep a live feed of all the patients in the hospital at any time, just like hospitals such as the Boston Medical Center are already doing.
Critical alerts can go off in case of abnormal vitals, not only alerting a central station, but relevant staff located nearby the patient thanks to a mesh net. Other data commonly recorded by activity tracker users, such as that related to sleep or physical activity, can also be used to factor on the patient’s recovery.
For those patients staying at home, or elderly people that need a regular follow up, IoT can also help to collect all this information remotely, alerting the doctors when they need assistance. For both hospitalised and at home, all the data can be kept in health portals accessible to them and the doctors that may need to check their historical information.
As stated above, medical staff can get alerts in case of emergency, based on their location and medical specialty. Not only that, but they can also get alerts when they need to pay a patient a visit, or take a break, based on their heart rate, blood pressure and recent sleep. Thanks to IoT, the staff can get alerts based on their stress and work levels and hours and be assigned patients and break times based on that information. In this way, IoT can increase productivity, as well as the staff’s health and wellbeing.
These devices can also be used to grant the staff access to certain areas within the hospital or find out whereabouts in the building they are in case of emergency.
Other than staff location, IoT can also provide the employees with information about equipment location around the building. It is not rare to have only a couple of those expensive, very specific devices in the whole hospital for them to be shared amongst different floors and areas. The location of some of these can be critical when it comes to saving lives.
IoT solutions can also help follow hospital’s supplies in a seamless manner, like Idranil Ganguli from the from JFK Health System suggests. Not only can the hospitals control the amount of medicines and other sanitary supplies left, but they can keep track of the people taking them. This is particularly interesting in those hospitals that may suffer distribution-related problems. When there supplies for a certain item or medicine are low, an IoT integrated supply system can automatically order the relevant article online, also reducing the workload of those taking care of the inventory.
The possibility of using Internet of Things as telehealth assistance is not the only way to optimise and declutter hospitals, but the occupancy of emergency rooms and other areas can also be controlled via IoT, allowing administrative staff to direct patients in an informed manner.
Hospitals are not the only ones that can profit from IoT. Pharmaceutical companies are already using this technology to enhance their products, with creations such as smart inhalers, smart insulin syringes or smart blisters that track the medicine usage.
The most interest progress in this sense, however, is probably the concept of smart pills, medicines such as Abilify Mccite that contain sensors that make sure the pills are working, and how much are they working. These send a signal to a patch attached to the patient, and this synchronises with the user’s smartphone to keep the information and, if permitted, share it with their doctor.
IoT in the healthcare sector is seeing an increasing investment, with an estimation of $409bn in investment by 2022. Even if it cannot produce any increased revenue for the public sector, it can help reduce a lot of costs, allowing that money to be invested in research, infrastructure or more staff. On the other hand, for private companies and pharmaceuticals, the added value can have a great impact in their ROI.
However, IoT faces a great obstacle in order to be fully functional and helpful to the sector: interoperability. With devices from many different companies being released, a shared framework in data collection and storage must be agreed on so patients can have their full health records, and doctors can check them whenever necessary. It is just a matter of time that a standarised model, or a range of modular products, are introduced to allow the patients information to be all kept in the same format and place.