The Internet of Things has inevitably penetrated the healthcare industry, one that accounts for billions of smart devices — and their number keeps growing exponentially. Although the internet was adopted for healthcare equipment long ago, it is only in recent years that medical institutions have arrived at giving serious thought to IoT-connected devices. The statistics confirm an increasing role of the healthcare IoT: the Mind Commerce’s report predicts that it will reach $117 billion by 2020, with a 15.1% annual average growth rate.
How Healthcare Benefits from IoT
Why do healthcare organizations seek to reduce human involvement for paperwork, vital sign monitoring and medical equipment administration, and want machines to perform these functions? In this domain, errors cost too much, and empowering machines to take care of these operations allows the institutions to eliminate the risk of the human factor. An increasing number of caregivers opt for the healthcare Internet of Things solutions, as they provide the following benefits:
- Remote patient health data monitoring, reporting and abnormality alerting. Gadgets send valuable information on patients’ conditions to nurses or medical officers, while no direct contact with patient required. Also, they alarm the staff if the condition changes for worse or send reminder alerts to users.
- Virtual appliance management, regardless of their number. Hundreds and thousands of hospitals’ appliances are connected to central controls, which facilitates their management and monitoring. Also, this reduces the participation of humans, minimizes the risk of error and requires less time.
- Device-to-analytics data stream automation. Medical workers do not receive raw information; they get structured data that is ready for use. Consequently, workers are not distracted by data processing.
- Caregiver’s equipment administration. This feature allows the staff to be aware of the condition and location of their equipment; particularly, of the assets that can be moved from one place to another.
- Remote equipment configuration. The staff can tune home health monitoring devices or wearables remotely, eliminating the need for patients to visit the hospital.
- Timeous appliance maintenance. The workers can notice any aberrations in the equipment’s performance in advance and fix it before it does damage. It is especially important for the gadgets that are installed in intensive care units or with equipment for particularly vulnerable patients.
- Reduced costs. IoT in healthcare domain allows remote monitoring of the patients’ states, which enables disease treatment at home. Also, medical equipment maintenance costs decrease, while the uptime increases.
IoT-Connected Medical Devices
The more progress medical science and technology make, the higher the number and the variety of healthcare devices rockets. The gadgets face constant modernization and enhancement along with evolving consumer needs. As a consequence, the role of these appliances has increased: today, they not only assist in the patient workup and disease treatment but also help prevent health problems and encourage wellness.
Depending on the place and the way the devices are applied, they can be both wearable and fixed. Portable and immovable ones are used in hospital wards, physician’s offices, workup rooms, laboratories or in patients’ homes. Wearables are even more convenient, as they accompany health consumers in the street or on the road.
A wide range of smart devices in healthcare that monitor the patients’ state and well-being can be grouped in several ways, in accordance with their purpose:
Patient Location Tracking Gadgets
The growing number of cases when elderly people, or persons with mental disorders or dementia, get lost has spurred producers on the development of tracking appliances and implants. These GPS-based appliances provide a timely response to the patient’s family and inform them of their relative’s location, which allows taking immediate action if the patient is in trouble.
Patient and Staff Behavior Tracking Appliances
Some tracking devices measure breathing rate, heart rate, body temperature and even body posture and have a fall detection feature. They enable immediate fall detection to allow for an immediate response and reduce the stress and the consequences of the fall.
Also, behavior tracking is a useful feature if there is a need to check staff or to enforce certain behaviors. For example, special sensors can indicate if the staff wash their hands every time after they visit the restroom.
Vital Signs Gathering and Health Outcome Monitoring Devices
These gadgets gather patient vitals (body temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar level, heart rate, etc.) and can be utilized by both wearers and medical staff. This allows constant monitoring of the health state, changes in the condition and the treatment efficacy, regardless of the patient’s location – whether he/she is at home, at the hospital or somewhere else. There are some examples of most common gadgets of the sort, such as:
- Blood sugar level meters that rate the required marker and alarm in cases of abnormality
- Fertility monitors that help women track their ovulation cycles to increase their chances of getting pregnant, which is especially important at a time when an increasing number of couples has fertility issues
- Pulse oximeters for those who suffer from asthma, as they measure heart rate and blood oxygen levels and report the results to the physicians
The Quality of Life Enhancement Gadgets
For patients with chronic diseases, there is also technology changing healthcare: medical device manufacturers develop gadgets that help people alleviate their chronic health condition. For instance, people with diabetes can utilize the blood sugar level meters not only for the intended purpose but also to get the required insulin dose when necessary.
Some appliances of the sort serve as alarms; they remind users of the prescribed drug intake and even supply them. Also, patients who suffer pain can use wearables with an embedded painkiller supply that gauge patients’ activity and dispense drugs to reduce the pain. The users and their treating doctors can track the activity results, painkiller doses and make adjustments remotely.
Patient Workup and Operation Medical Equipment
Used by both health professionals and lab staff, the IoT equipment is an indispensable part of workup procedures. Not to mention the benefits that automated tests bring to quality results, internet-connected MRI, CT, EKG pieces of apparatus, lab equipment, etc. IoT equipment allows immediate data reporting to attending doctors and immediate result availability for processing and analysis.
Recently, IoT devices have been used even for such serious procedures as an operative intervention. They enable robot-assisted surgery and remote surgery aimed to expand the capabilities of human surgeons.
Fitness-related gadgets gather information on user activity, bedtime and more, and send it to specific applications that process the results. Then, these apps make recommendations on required levels of activity and set alarms to remind users of planned actions.
IoT Medical Device Issues
Medical devices are closely tied to patients’ privacy, health and life and can affect them significantly. That is why all possible issues should be considered closely in the process of medical appliance manufacturing, tuning, configuring and maintaining, as creating trouble-proof IoT connections is of utmost importance.
In recent years, the healthcare industry has been exposed to various cyber-attacks multiple times, as more and more criminals steal and encrypt confidential data to profit from the domain’s large revenues. Several US hospitals suffered from ransomware attacks in 2016, and the threat is on the rise. Also, the growing tendency of hospitals of using cloud-based services raises the information security threat, as criminals may seek to employ the vulnerabilities of the hospitals’ networks. However, medical institutions should strive to provide safety not only to their information, equipment and virtual connections but primarily to their patients. There is also a risk that intruders get access to the functions that control patient-connected manipulations, such as the drug dosage, and other routine procedures.
One of the major concerns of the Internet of Things healthcare is the provision of secure connections, which is extremely important and difficult, as IoT goes hand in hand with the internet. That is why the government focuses on information security in the healthcare domain and controls it by various leverages. The prescriptions on the protection of patients’ personal information are also specified in HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) that lays down the demands on the medical devices as well.
As soon as IoT fully relies on the internet, a fault-tolerant and safe Wi-Fi should be provided in places where IoT-connected equipment is used. Even supposing hospitals have proper wireless connections, there is no guarantee that the patients also have it in the places they use the IoT equipment. This may become a roadblock to having an up-to-date patient information.
Since IoT medical devices operate 24/7, healthcare institutions should provide their around-the-clock maintenance. However, if hospitals fail to do this, it may cause equipment outage and failure to receive patient information on time.
Also, the more devices are interconnected, the more complex their maintenance is. This demands a comprehensive IT service team to support IoT products that are implemented in the system.
The Medicine of Future
The Internet of Things allows developing comprehensive networks within medical institutions that unite their staff, patients, equipment and routine procedures. Such an approach leverages the best that modern technology can provide for caregivers and utilizes it to help prevent diseases, improve treatment procedures and health outcomes. If such a delicate coherence gets interrupted or breaks, it may affect the performance of both individual gadgets and the whole network. A correct connection and interaction among a variety of smart medical devices ensure that both the equipment and also patients and their personal information are under the proper care.
SaM Solutions started utilizing key principles of the Internet of Things long ago before it has become a buzzword. Since then, we have developed comprehensive expertise in the creation of the firmware for any IoT device, the middleware for IoT systems, the human-machine interfaces and end-user applications. In our work, we rely on industry’s best practices and adjust our solutions to the requirements of each specific domain, whether it is the healthcare or the manufacturing industry, or any other field.