IoT in Healthcare: Benefits, Challenges and Use Cases
Before the introduction of IoT in the healthcare sector, patient care was all about hospital visits, and to the most to calls and text messages. This way it was not possible for the doctors to monitor the health of the patients continuously and assist them whenever needed. Things changed with the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT), leading to effective remote patient care.
As per research by Technavio, smart healthcare across the globe is estimated to reach $169.32 billion by the year 2020.
Chart image after research by Technavio can be used here with credits
IoT in healthcare is touching many lives and spaces today. The same has been elaborated below:
• IoT for physicians
Now physicians can easily keep track of their patients’ health by using wearables and equipment that are connected with IoT. This way, they will know whether to offer any immediate medical care or to make any changes in the current treatment. The healthcare providers will be able to connect with the patients proactively through IoT-enabled devices. By learning from the collected data coming from such connected IoT devices, doctors will be able to plan out a better treatment and thereby get better results.
• IoT for patients
Now it is possible to give more attention to the patients by opting for devices that are in the form of wearables. These wearables can be fitness bands or devices connected wirelessly to monitor heart rate and blood pressure, glucometer, etc. Such devices can be used to check variations in blood pressure, book appointments, remind calorie count, etc.
IoT can be used to constantly check various health conditions and this has made taking care of elderly people better. This technology has greatly benefitted the people who live alone or are away from their families. In case any changes are detected in the routine, an alert is sent to the concerned health provider or family member.
• IoT for Health Insurance Companies
IoT-enabled devices bring in a pool of opportunities to health insurers. Insurance companies can make use of large amounts of data collected through numerous health monitoring devices for claim operations and underwriting. This will help them find prospects for underwriting and avoid any kinds of fake claims. The introduction of IoT devices in this sector will bring in transparency between the customers and insurers in terms of risk assessment processes, pricing, underwriting, and claims handling.
The customers will be able to have a clear idea regarding every decision taken and about its outcome as here operation processes will be decided based on the data collected from IoT-devices.
• IoT for hospitals
IoT devices help hospitals with a range of things apart from just monitoring the health of patients. Hospitals can use sensors equipped with IoT to track down different medical equipment like defibrillators, oxygen pumps, wheelchairs, nebulizers, and others. It is also possible to analyze the location of the medical staff in real-time.
IoT devices can also be used by hospitals to manage pharmacy inventory as well as monitor the environment (humidity and temperature in the refrigerator). IoT devices can be used to monitor the hygiene conditions using devices and thus prevent the patients from any kind of infection.
Benefits of IoT implementation in the healthcare sector
• Throughout affordability and connectivity
By using healthcare mobility solutions and other related technologies and facilities, IoT can easily automate the workflow inpatient care. Introducing IoT in healthcare helps with ease of information exchange, interoperability, data movement, and machine-to-machine communication, which helps with delivering healthcare services in an effective manner.
This setup helps the healthcare personnel to diagnose the illness in a said manner and find innovative ways to treat it. Such a setup brings down the expenses by reducing the number of unnecessary hospital visits, by improving the planning and allocation, and using the resources in a better way.
• Reporting and monitoring at the same time
In case of medical emergencies like an asthma attack, heart failure or diabetes, using connected devices for real-time monitoring can play a crucial role in saving lives.
In case of real-time monitoring, IoT-enabled smart devices will be connected to a smartphone app. So now different connected devices will collect the health-related data of the patient and the same will be sent to the physician. Such kind of remote monitoring of the patient will lead to decreased re-admission of them to the hospital within the said month.
The different health-related data collected from the patients can be stored over the cloud. which can be reviewed by only an authorized professional. This professional can be a doctor, a health firm or the insurance company of the patient. The data can be viewed by them any time and from anywhere with ease.
• Alerts and tracking
When the circumstances are life-threatening, on-time alerts become crucial. Critical medical data are collected by the IoT devices in healthcare and are then transferred to the doctors for real-time tracking. At the same time, the important part of the information is sent to the people through connected devices and mobile apps.
So wherever the patient is, it is possible to get a better idea about his or her health from alerts and reports. This way it is possible to offer on-time treatment to the patients as well as make the right decisions during that process.
In short, IoT helps the healthcare industry with real-time tracking, monitoring and alerting. This helps them get better accuracy of the patient’s health, offer hands-on treatment, enhance patient care and get the right doctors on-board quickly.
• Assortment and analysis of data
IoT devices work in real-time and within a short amount of time, large volumes of data are sent by healthcare devices. So in the case, the access to the cloud is not available then it is not easy to store and manage such huge amounts of data. Again, if we look at things from the perspective of healthcare providers, even they cannot manually analyze such large volumes of data that are collected from different sources and devices.
Now things are different with IoT devices! They can easily collect, analyze and get insights from the data in real-time without going through the pain of storing them in the raw format first. Now, all these tasks take place over the cloud and finally, just the reports and graphs are delivered to the users.
Additionally, in this way, healthcare professionals can speed up their decision-making process and reduce the number of errors as they get easy access to important data-driven insights and analytics from different healthcare operations.
Apart from reaching patients with effective medical solutions, IoT in healthcare can be used for the purpose of research. Implementation of IoT in the healthcare sector helps to collect large volumes of vivid data that are related to patient health and treatment which would have otherwise taken many years to get accumulated.
In short, the data collected in this manner can prove to be beneficial for medical research by contributing to a statistical study. So the time and money that you need to invest in research get greatly reduced through IoT.
Today IoT is used across many devices that are used by patients and this has helped to improve the quality of healthcare services. Moreover, IoT can lead to better healthcare facilities and medical treatments.
• Medical assistance remotely
Emergencies just come; they don’t knock at the door first! In such situations now patients can easily contact their doctor who stays several miles away just by using a mobile app. The use of mobile apps in this sector can help the doctors to get instant information about patient health and diagnose the issue quickly.
Again, some of the medicine delivery companies are planning to come up with IoT-driven machines that can learn from the prescription of the patient as well as go through their medical data using connected devices, to instantly deliver medicines.
IoT is capable enough to help hospitals offer better patient care. This way, people will end up spending less time and money at hospitals.
Just like any other technology, IoT integration in healthcare comes with its share of challenges. Now the same has been explained below:
Challenges faced by IoT in the healthcare sector
The challenges faced with IoT implementation in healthcare are as below:
Cost is definitely one of the key challenges faced with IoT implementation. This technology-driven solution is not yet affordable to the common man!
The majority of the people living across the globe are worried about the increasing costs in the healthcare sector and things are tough especially in developed countries. For the same reason, today there is an increasing trend of “medical tourism.” Here the patients from the developed countries are visiting developing countries to acquire healthcare facilities for critical health conditions. They do this because the expenditure for such treatments in developing countries is one-tenth of what they would have otherwise spent in their country.
IoT in healthcare is still a promising idea but a costly affair. This can only contribute towards better healthcare once the stakeholders involved in it make it cost-effective for the masses. If IoT remains an expensive model then only the rich people will be able to afford its facilities in the future.
• Privacy and data security
Privacy and data security pose to be one of the biggest threats with the implementation of IoT. The main purpose of IoT devices is to collect and transmit large volumes of data in real-time. However, most of such IoT devices follow no standards and data protocols. Again, there is no clarity regarding the ownership of data collected through IoT devices.
All such issues make IoT devices more vulnerable to attacks. This way, hackers can easily get into the system and get their hands on the protected Personal Health Information of doctors and patients. Such hackers can make use of patient data to come up with fake IDs that they can use to buy medical equipment and medicines that can be sold later in the market. It is also possible that such cyber-criminals can file a fake claim in the patient’s name and grab money.
• Integration with different protocols and devices
Implementation of IoT in the healthcare sector can get affected by the integration of several devices. The issue we see with IoT implementation is due to the lack of agreement between different device manufacturers regarding setting a standard and communication protocols.
So when different devices are connected under a single IoT ecosystem they will find issues with communication protocols and thereby lead to problems for data aggregation. As the communication protocols across the devices have no uniformity, it will affect the whole process and the use of IoT in healthcare will face scalability issues.
• Data accuracy and overload
As seen above, the differences in communication protocols and standards make it difficult for IoT devices to aggregate data. Still, large volumes of data are recorded by IoT devices and they are used to gain crucial insights.
The overwhelming quantity of data makes it difficult for doctors to learn from it and put them to use during the decision-making process. With more devices getting included in the IoT network, more and more amounts of data will get accumulated. So you know the rest!
Use cases of IoT in healthcare
The application of IoT is increasing across different industries today. Some of the applications of IoT in the healthcare sector have been explained here:
Ingestible sensors are the next big this we have received in the field of medicine. As per a study conducted by WHO in 2003 on patient behavior pointed out the fact that around 50% of the medicines prescribed to the patients were not consumed as directed. So with an attempt to lower this figure, Proteus came up with the solution of ingestible sensors!
When the patients take up such pills, it gets dissolved in the body and creates small signals. Such signals are then received by the sensors that the patient has worn on the body. The smartphone app then gets the data from the sensors to confirm that the patient has consumed the medicine as required. An antipsychotic drug named ABILIFY MYCITE which was created by Proteus and Otsuka has turned out to be the first drug with a digital tracking system to be approved by the FDA.
Hearables are nothing but the hearing aids developed for the modern world so that people with hearing issues can connect with others in a better way. These hearables can be easily connected with smartphones as they are compatible with Bluetooth. You can now equalize, add layered features and filter the sounds present in the real-world with it. One of the best examples of hearables is Doppler Labs.
The device which can help to improve our mood throughout the day is termed as moodables. It may sound crazy but they are actually a reality. Work has been progressing in this area and companies like Thync and Halo Neurosciences have already started to explore the possibilities. Moodables are actually wearables that have to be worn on the head. This device sends low-intensity current waves to the brain thereby relaxing it and elevating the mood.
• Smart hospitals
One of the major issues that we find in the healthcare sector across the globe is having hospital infrastructure that is hard to manage and dealing with many faults. Some of the issues seen at the ground level are working overload on the doctors and nurses, loads of paperwork and long tiring queues.
All these issues can be nullified at the practical level by the implementation of IoT. You can eliminate the need for paperwork by coming up with a centralized automated database. Using smart contracts and blockchain to this centralized system can be like icing to a cake! Such a system can be monitored remotely, track hospital staff using smartphones, receive and process submissions through a single system and control queues in a better way.
Making use of such innovative technologies will make patient care seamless, reduce stress on medical professionals, reduce hospital costs and be environment-friendly. An automated solution will lead to optimal use of resources, boost productivity, and speed up diagnosis and treatment.
• Treatment of chronic disease
It will become possible to efficiently tackle chronic diseases by opting for IoT-powered solutions. Here the IoT network includes wearables, data analytics, sensors, and mobility solutions. The issue with chronic diseases is that you need to observe it for a longer period of time and analyze it for insights. This way any fluctuations in the symptoms can be noted down and thereby offer treatment efficiently. Integration of technologies like AI can add-in capabilities for the disease investigating team. The right use of technologies in healthcare, especially in the case of treating chronic diseases is great.
• Mobile health
Taking care of one’s health using smartphones is easy in today’s world. Such a setup is proving beneficial in case of regular treatments as well as in case of critical medical situations. Here mobile apps are used as a centre for offering medical assistance, to get information, to manage IoT sensors present in the body, analyze your body trends as well as to contact your doctor.
This can prove to be an effective solution in countries where people cannot have easy access to hospitals. At the same time, the government can collect such information to better know the health of the people and get insights from it.
The integration of IoT in healthcare can be called as a revolutionizing trend. It is said to play a very crucial role in enhancing healthcare across the globe. IoT in healthcare is in its early years and there are many issues and hurdles to overcome. In the coming years, it will get better and become more adaptable to the masses.