190130-IoT

Why Healthcare Needs the Internet of Things

Guest Editorial

The IoT consists of smart objects or devices with cloud connectivity capabilities – devices that can perform a function, collect data and transmit that data to a network where it can be used by humans to accomplish a goal. IoT devices are appearing everywhere in society, from the industrial supply chain to automated cars, but one of the most important applications for the IoT is in the healthcare space.

Health care providers may be skeptical about embracing this technological revolution in health care, but the truth is that connected devices and the IoT can bring significant benefits to the healthcare industry if implemented effectively. To illustrate that point, here are five reasons why healthcare needs the Internet of Things.

The IoT Will Help Improve Diagnosis and Treatment for Patients

Medical device companies are already creating connected medical devices that can improve diagnostic and treatment options for patients.

Here’s a great example for you: capsule endoscopy. A connected, vitamin-sized pill with a miniature camera is swallowed by the patient, which then takes thousands of pictures of the patient’s digestive tract that can be reviewed by doctors to screen for diseases like colon cancer. Machine learning technology is also being applied to automate the image analysis, helping doctors more successfully diagnose and treat their patients.

Innovations like these will offer patients preferable alternatives for obtaining a diagnosis.


Connected Devices Will Support Remote Monitoring of Chronic Diseases

Patients with chronic diseases can benefit significantly from remote monitoring with connected, wearable medical devices. A major area of research for medical device companies today is continuous blood glucose monitoring for patients with Type I and Type II diabetes. Wearable devices that monitor blood glucose on an ongoing basis and transmit the data to clinicians can facilitate better monitoring of chronic diseases.

Patients with chronic heart problems can also be fitted with a connected pace maker that alerts care providers when the patient experiences cardiac arrhythmia. This technology has the capacity to save lives and free up space in hospitals by discharging patients that can be monitored remotely instead.


Patient Safety and Drug Management will Improve with the IoT

In 2017, the first digital pill was approved for sale in the United States by the FDA. When the pill is swallowed, the sensor emits an electronic signal as it comes into contact with the patient’s stomach acid. Moments later, that signal is transmitted to a wearable patch on the patient’s skin, and then to a mobile app where it can be shared with health care providers.

This digital pill will enable physicians to remotely monitor a patient’s compliance with a drug program, verifying within moments that the proper dosage was taken by the patient. This type of monitoring system could be especially useful for at-risk populations who require extra supervision to follow their prescriptions, such as patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other illnesses that affect cognition.


IoT in Healthcare Will Facilitate Better Long Term Disease Management

Some IoT devices in healthcare are designed to help patients manage their diseases over the long term. Healthcare technology giants MedTronic recently introduced a connected insulin pump that continuously monitors patient blood glucose levels and supplies the correct amount of insulin automatically to keep the patient at an appropriate blood sugar level.

In addition to helping the patient avoid daily pin pricks for blood testing and insulin injections, MedTronic’s insulin pump facilitates better long-term patient care outcomes through its automation of insulin supply. With this device, patients can avoid many of the complications associated with poor management of blood glucose and lead fuller, happier lives despite coping with a long-term illness.


IoT Devices Will Decrease Costs While Improving Patient Care Outcomes

As health care costs continue to soar, more insurance carriers are moving towards an outcomes-based reimbursement model for health care providers. To receive payment for services, physicians have to demonstrate that they are helping patients improve their health.

Hospitals that have assigned patients wearable connected devices for remote monitoring have been able to reduce their costs by discharging patients earlier when home monitoring is a viable alternative to an inpatient recovery stay in the hospital. As health care providers find ways to leverage connected devices into improved patient care practices, the healthcare industry as a whole will benefit from lowered care costs and better health care outcomes.


Conclusion

The global healthcare industry today faces a number of challenges that can be addressed by the effective application of connected medical devices and the IoT in the healthcare context. In the face of soaring treatment costs, an unstable regulatory environment and changing reimbursement models, the IoT promises to deliver benefits like improved patient care, better health care outcomes and decreased costs throughout the system. In that respect, it’s easy to see why the healthcare industry desperately needs the Internet of Things.

 

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