The Internet of Medical Things: Enhancing Healthcare with IoT
- By Isha Deshpande
- Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming various industries, including healthcare. IoT refers to the network of physical objects surrounded with sensors, software and connectivity that enable them to collect and exchange data. In healthcare, IoT takes many forms - from wearable devices monitoring patient vitals to sensors tracking medical equipment to smart hospitals with fully connected infrastructure. With the growing world’s aging population and rising chronic diseases, healthcare systems are often overburdened and inefficient. IoT presents an opportunity to completely improve healthcare delivery and outcomes through continuous remote monitoring, workflow optimization, asset tracking, and a reduction in human errors. As per the estimation around 64% of healthcare organizations have already implemented IoT solutions to some degree. However, IoT in healthcare is still in its early stages, it is poised to benefit patients, providers and health systems across the globe.
There are various factors driving the global IoT in healthcare industry such as improved patient outcomes, workflow efficiency, reduced costs, and the ability to deliver care remotely. Also, the evolution of complementing technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data in the healthcare sector is a major factor driving market revenue growth and is anticipared to maintain its dominance over the assessment period. As per the study by Emergen Research, the global Internet of Things (IoT) in healthcare market size was USD 108.40 Billion in 2022 and is anticipated to register a revenue CAGR of 17.50% during the assessment period.
Applications of IoT in Healthcare
A. Remote Patient Monitoring: IoT-enabled wearable devices and sensors allow patients to be monitored in real-time without having to stay in hospitals or clinics. Doctors can get continuous patient vitals like ECG, blood pressure, body temperature, etc. remotely, enabling earlier interventions. Patients can also track their own fitness and chronic conditions like diabetes outside clinical settings. For example, a smart insulin monitoring system paired with a continuous glucose monitor can track insulin dosages and automatically release just the needed amounts. The data is securely transmitted to the cloud and to healthcare providers. This allows doctors to analyze trends and adjust care accordingly. such remote monitoring can reduce hospital visits and enable aged-in-place care. A survey found 65% of healthcare providers already use remote monitoring, and adoption is expected to grow.
B. Asset Tracking and Workflow Optimization: Hospitals have to manage thousands of critical medical equipment like ventilators, patient monitors, defibrillators, etc. IoT helps track these assets’ usage and location in real-time via technologies like RFID, RTLS tags and sensors. This improves equipment maintenance, avoids losses, and optimizes workflows. For instance, Mount Sinai hospital used RFID to reduce rented pump costs by 50%. Asset monitoring also helps ensure critical equipment is accessible when patient needs arise. Sensors placed on pharmaceuticals can track if they are stored properly to avoid spoilage. Streamlining workflows is a top motivator for asset tracking adoption.
C. Smart Medical Devices: Many medical devices like ECG machines, ultrasound scanners etc. are now IoT enabled to automatically capture and transmit patient data to Electronic Health Records. This facilitates data accuracy, timely sharing among providers, and reduces duplication of tests. For example, diabetic patients no longer have to manually log glucose readings. Their continuous glucose monitor seamlessly sends readings every 5 minutes to both doctor and patient. The entire patient journey from testing to diagnoses can be connected. McGill University Health Center saw improved data quality and financial savings using IoT-enabled devices. As medical devices become ‘smart’, they provide richer data for better care.
D. Health Analytics: The massive amount of data generated by IoT devices and systems provides powerful insights through analytics. AI algorithms can analyze patient patterns against millions of other cases to enable precision medicine and evidence-based treatment. Predictive analytics based on IoT data can identify at-risk patients and allow interventions before conditions worsen. Aggregate population health data from sensors and wearables can also help governments predict disease outbreaks and epidemics. Accenture estimates top healthcare systems could save $165 billion over 25 years using IoT health analytics.
E. Smart Hospitals: IoT is being used to create intelligent hospital infrastructure - from HVAC and lighting to security, parking, and wayfinding. Connected lighting and climate control optimized for patients not only reduces energy costs but improves recovery. Asset tracking also applies to hospital equipment like wheelchairs. Smart wards have self-regulating environments adjusting to individual needs. Sensors on hospital beds can detect if they are occupied and send alerts if a fall is detected. Connected hospitals allow administrators to oversee operations in real-time and be responsive. The IoT hospital market is predicted to grow 33% annually till 2026.
Benefits and Impact
- Improved Patient Outcomes: Continuous remote monitoring through IoT devices allows doctors to respond more quickly to signs of trouble and make adjustments to care. This results in improved patient outcomes compared to periodic in-clinic assessments alone. A randomized controlled trial of home blood pressure telemonitoring found it lowered mortality by 29% compared to standard care. The quick detection and alerting of adverse events enabled by IoT is credited with saving lives.
- Cost Savings: Hospitals have seen significant cost reductions from optimizing workflows and asset monitoring using IoT. Reduced medical rentals, lowered lengths of stay, avoiding duplicate tests, preventing device failures etc. generate major savings. For example, Baptist Health System avoided $600,000 in rental pump costs using IoT asset management. IoT data has also shown promise in reducing costly hospital readmissions. Home monitoring helps cut costs associated with nurse visits. Accenture predicts industrial IoT could save healthcare organizations 17% in costs by 2023.
- Patient Engagement: IoT gives patients more control over their health data and active participation in care. Instead of episodic check-ups, patients are continuously connected to clinicians. Wearables with gamification help patients stick to care regimens better. Access to their own health insights motivates patients toward preventive care. Remote virtual visits enabled by IoT also increase convenience for patients. In one survey, 64% of respondents said IoT remote care gives them greater peace of mind.
- Data-driven Decisions: IoT provides clinicians with significantly more accurate, timely and richer data compared to manual tracking. This leads to data-driven interventions, treatment adjustments and life-saving alerts. Diagnostic accuracy also improves when doctors have historical data. Backed by AI analytics of population health data, physicians can make evidence-based decisions rather than rely just on experience. IoT data enhances preventive care.
- Public Health: Aggregated public health data from across populations enables earlier disease outbreak detection and tracking of disease clusters. Environmental sensors can identify pollution or chemical hazards before they escalate. Tracking effectiveness of health campaigns like immunization also becomes easier. During the COVID-19 pandemic, smart thermometers capable of detecting fever spikes helped track spread. The volume of IoT data supports public health policy decisions.
- Aged-in-Place Care: IoT provides the elderly a way to live independently while being monitored for emergencies, including fall detection. Lack of mobility often prevents seniors from regular doctor visits. Remote patient monitoring through home sensors allows clinicians to care for them while avoiding assisted living costs. Family caregivers also gain peace of mind. IoT tracking devices help those with dementia stay safe. Unobtrusive home monitoring maximizes independence.
Challenges and Concerns
- Data Privacy and Security: Health data is highly sensitive, and the sheer volume of IoT data poses privacy and security risks if not handled properly. IoT systems consisting of many entry points across sensors, medical devices, EHRs etc. make them vulnerable to hacking and data breaches. Ransomware attacks on hospitals have occurred. Strong authentication, encryption and cybersecurity measures are a must. Regulating access and usage of confidential patient data is also challenging. Proper consent and transparency over how the data is used is key to gain patient trust.
- Regulatory Uncertainty: Regulations surrounding IoT data integrity, safety, liability etc. are complex and still evolving. The availability and types of healthcare data gathered by IoT across global locations make it hard to regulate uniformly. Outdated regulations also hinder adoption at times. As IoT-assisted diagnosis and treatment grows, clinical governance and legal frameworks need to catch up. The onus is on policy makers to define appropriate oversight that fosters innovation while protecting consumers.
- Interoperability Issues Proprietary: IoT systems and differing standards adopted make integration challenging. With IoT vendors having disparate hardware and software, making them interoperable to get a unified view of a patient’s health is difficult but necessary. Lack of interoperability hampers analysis of patient data over time and across sources. interfaces between IoT medical devices and EHR systems may be incompatible. Global regulatory bodies have to accelerate efforts to harmonize technology standards.
- High Costs: While benefits are high, IoT requires significant upfront investment in sensors, network infrastructure and system integration. Smaller clinics and hospitals may lack the financial capability to modernize fully into smart facilities, thus impacting care equality. Technical expertise to manage IoT technologies is also scarce and expensive. Demonstrating ROI to justify costs is critical, especially for treatment areas that have yet to incorporate IoT fully. But declining sensor prices and maturing platforms are improving affordability.
- Behavioral Challenges: The healthcare sector tends to be slow in adopting new technologies out of caution. Physicians may view IoT data as interference and find it disruptive toworkflows. Lack of technical know-how also slows clinician adoption. Without understanding benefits, patients may be reluctant to adopt remote monitoring. Private data falling in wrong hands also heightens caution. Change management and training is vital to drive utilization and acceptance among users.
- Technical Difficulties: IoT systems face risks of hardware failures, software glitches and network outages which could severely impact delivery of care and patient outcomes, especially for critical care applications. However, improved security, rigorous testing and redundancy across medical grade IoT devices aim to mitigate functionality risks and limit dangerous malfunctions. Still the complexities require robust design.
AI and 5G to Enhance IoT Capabilities
The combination of high-speed 5G networks and AI fueled by data from IoT deployments will unlock more advanced health capabilities and benefits. 5G enables real-time analytics insights and lower latency for applications like telemedicine and robotic surgery. AI can help predict patient deterioration hours before it occurs. AI also makes the huge volume of data generated more manageable and meaningful.
Partnerships with Tech Providers
Healthcare organizations are entering strategic partnerships with technology companies focused on IoT platforms, infrastructure and managed services support. Tech firms like Microsoft, AWS, Google, IBM, Oracle, PTC, etc. offer HIPAA-compliant cloud solutions to share the costs and risks of IoT adoption while healthcare providers focus on care delivery and optimization.
Advancements in security around medical IoT devices are critical for HIPAA compliance and combating cyber threats. Blockchain technology is seen as promising for improved data security and sharing. IoT vendors are also investing more in data encryption, access controls, and building security into device designs from the start. Strict cybersecurity regulations will also enforce accountability.
IoT is enabling healthcare to be tailored to each patient’s needs and respond in real-time based on personalized data. For example, an IoT-driven closed loop system tracks glucose continuously and coordinates with an insulin pump to maintain optimal levels without human intervention. The rise of digital twins using IoT data will enable customized treatments.
Population Health Management
IoT-generated health data across populations enables authorities to gain broader insights into disease control and prevention. By studying patterns in large samples, public health policies can be tuned to address issues like obesity, smoking, epidemics, etc, and monitor progress over time across communities.
The application of the Internet of Things in the healthcare industry is poised for massive growth over the foreseen period. By allowing remote monitoring, improved diagnostics, and connected infrastructure, IoT has the capability to make healthcare more proactive, predictive, and patient-centric. While IoT adoption does face barriers around behavior, costs, technical skills, and data privacy, the long-term benefits far outweigh the challenges. With smart regulations, standardized technology approaches, and innovative thinking, healthcare systems can leverage IoT at scale to deliver quality care at lower costs to patients across the world. The definition of healthcare itself is bound to change as IoT, AI, and other technological leaps create a landscape of intelligent and connected care.