How IoT is Reshaping Healthcare

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The health industry is undeniably in a state of unprecedented despair and misery. I mean, more than ever, healthcare services have become costlier, the global economy is caving under the pressure of an aging population while a number of emergent and chronic diseases are on the rise. Technically, we are headed towards a situation where basic health care will be out of reach for the majority, a large population of the society will be unproductive due to old age, and people will become more susceptible to chronic diseases as a result of poor healthcare.

This makes one stop and wonder, isn’t this the apocalypse we have all been dreading? Well, not so fast!

Technology can have an unprecedented and progressive impact on how health care services are being provided. And like it has been over the millennia, we can leverage this ingenuity and technological advancement to bring the situation under control. Even so, we should not expect our intuitiveness and medical progression to automatically eradicate chronic diseases, or even stop people from aging. Nevertheless, we can leverage it to simplify healthcare and make it more easily accessible to people around the world.

But how?

The birth of a new paradigm of the internet, otherwise known as the Internet of Things (IoT) has brought into life a whole new dimension of possibilities in several sectors including health care. As a matter of fact, embracing this technology in the healthcare sector is a like leveraging a double-edged sword that cuts on both sides. I mean, the technology not only gives medical centers a chance to function more competently but also enables patients to receive better and objective health care.

As remote monitoring makes it possible for healthcare providers to better understand their patients, the power of cloud computing facilitates intelligent feedback loops that enable healthcare personalization in extraordinary ways, ultimately improving the efficiency and quality of treatment that patients receive.

IoT Healthcare Applications

Consumer/Home Monitoring

Consumers and healthcare providers can use the internet of things to check and monitor parameters such as blood glucose level,blood pressure, heart rates and abnormal changes in the body before they can become serious. This will make it possible for healthcare givers to identify problems and fix them before the onset of diseases. The services can be customized according to the patients’ needs since sensor fitted IoT devices constantly the body’s functioning. This monitoring can be conducted remotely, at home or in a health center. Already, many medical and tech companies have invested in devices that can detect things such as cancer, Asthma, and cardiac conditions such as chronic respiratory diseases.

Brain Sensors/ Neurotechnology

Autonomous electronic sensors are already in use to monitor brain activity. This is possible through the use of Neurotechnology which is a new way of using electrical stimulation in a bid to understand how the nervous system operates, and also how it can be controlled. The technology can repair and improve brain function, and most importantly, enable physicians to visualize the brain. This comes in the form of special headsets equipped with dry electroencephalography (EEG) sensors, neuroimaging systems, and innovative software to monitor the brain and then transmit signals to paired and connected smart devices.

How about having machines responding to thoughts?

With no doubt, Neurotechnology is one of the most innovative medical technique the world has ever seen in the recent past. Through it, specially engineered software can understand brain activity and transform it into commands. As a result of this innovation, we should expect improved remote healthcare and better surgeries.

Fitness Wearables

Currently, many companies have released smartwatches and fitness bands that can track and monitor the wearer’s health condition. The recorded information can then be shared between connected devices such as smartphones and personal computers. This information can shed light on a whole new front of possibilities, and help healthcare givers in making informed decisions based on the patient’s data. This can potentially save lives, minimize the cases of disease relapses and reduce the number of emergency room visits.

Nevertheless, medical organizations have to be prepared to handle large volumes of unstructured data. Big data analytics solutions have to be put in place to collect and analyze this data in a way that healthcare providers can understand.

Infant Monitoring

Sudden infant death syndrome is one of the most serious conditions that has been afflicting humankind since the dawn of life. And since it is impossible to be around a baby for 24 hours 7 days a week, wearable devices can be used to monitor the well-being of a child. Already, there are microcontroller hardware solutions that can be integrated with sensors to monitor medical parameters such as breathing rate, sleep position, and heart rate. These sensors are designed to notify healthcare providers and parents about serious health conditions and impending diseases.

Sleep Monitoring

Wearable smart devices are capable of tracking sleep patterns including, waking hours, total time slept and sleep depth. Such information can have a lot to say about a patient’s health condition. For instance, data from elderly people smart devices can alert health care providers and relatives in case something awry.

Clinical-Grade Biometric Sensors

Putting aside any doubts that wearable technology can produce accurate medical grade data that doctors can rely on, clinical grade biometric sensors have already been put in place to help doctors and patients. This technology can produce highly personalized data in several patterns such as episodic, aperiodic, continuous and static physiological data streams inform of digital representations.

Biometric sensors have opened a whole new dimension of non-invasive solutions which can track and monitor calorie intake, heart rate, blood lactate and sleep quality. Patients who are under emergency medications or at risk of spontaneous medical attacks can benefit a lot from such technology.

Benefits of IoT for Healthcare

Autonomous Simultaneous reporting and monitoring

At its simplest definition, IoT is a connection of smart devices that can remotely communicate with each other. With such capabilities, real-time monitoring of patients can help save a life in the event of a medical emergency like diabetes, heart failure or asthma attacks. When real-time and continuous monitoring of a medical condition is put into place via specially engineered medical devices connected to a smartphone, they can collect medical information about the patient and transmit it to a physician through the smartphone’s data connection. To stress more on this, a study conducted by Center of Connected Health Policy found that readmissions reduced by 50 percent in heart failure patients within a period of 30 days due to remote monitoring.

IoT makes this possible by collecting and transferring medical data such as blood sugar levels, weight, oxygen, ECGs and blood pressure. Once collected, the data is stored in a cloud which make it easy to remotely share with authorized persons who could be your physician, participating health firm, insurance company or even an external consultant to help them make better health decisions for patients regardless of the time, where they are of the device they are using.

End-to-end connectivity and affordability

The Internet of Things can automate patient care workflow via healthcare mobility solutions and other similar technologies. It achieves this by enabling machine to machine communication, interoperability, data movement and information exchange which makes service delivery seamless and effective. Additionally, device connectivity protocols such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and Z-wave can transform the way ailments and illnesses are diagnosed and also help innovate and engineer new revolutionary ways of treatment.

These technology-based arrangements help patients reduce treatment costs, by utilizing better quality resources, cutting down visits to health care centers and improving healthcare planning.

Data assortment and analysis

If IoT was to be implemented in the health sector, the large amounts of data sent from healthcare devices owing to their real-time application can be hard to store and manage in the absence of cloud computing. It is also very difficult for healthcare centers to manually receive and analyze data coming from different sources and devices. Fortunately, IoT enabled devices can collect the data, analyze it and generate a report in real time eliminating the need to store the data. All of this happens overcloud with healthcare providers receiving a visualized final report to act on.

Additionally, it helps healthcare centers to get data-driven insights and healthcare analytics which speed up decision making and reduce the probability of making errors.

Tracking and alerts

Alerts are very critical in the event of life-threatening situations. Fortunately, the internet of things not only makes it possible for devices to collect and transfer real-time data to physicians for analysis, but also drop health alerts to patients through linked devices such as smartphones. These alerts and reports provide firm opinions regarding a patient irrespective of the time or physical location. This makes it possible to provide instant treatment and make medically informed decisions.

Thanks to IoT, tracking, monitoring and real-time alerting is possible which enables prompt intervention by doctors, more accurate decisions, hands-on treatment and an overall improved service delivery for better healthcare services.

Remote medical assistance

In case of an emergency, patients have the privilege of contacting their health care providers even when they are many miles away by using mobile applications. And since IoT facilities mobility solutions in healthcare, physicians can instantly get the information, identify the patient in distress, and provide instant solutions for the conditions he/she is suffering from. In the future, there are also prospects of machines that can autonomously distribute drugs based on the patient’s condition and data from the connected devices. This will subsequently reduce the amount of money people are spending on healthcare.

Challenges on IoT in Healthcare

Data security & privacy

Data security and privacy is perhaps the most significant threat IoT poses to the medical sector. Even though these devices can autonomously connect and transmit data, they lack standards and protocols to save it. Moreover, there is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to data ownership regulation. All of these make such data prone to cybercriminals who can compromise its security and confidentiality.

These cybercriminals can then abuse the information by using it to create fake identifies which they can use to buy medical equipment and drugs which they can sell later. There is also a possibility of such criminals to file fraudulent insurance claims using a patient’s identity.

Integration: multiple devices & protocols

Integrating and connecting several devices can make it hard to implement IoT in the health sector. This is so because device manufacturers from around the world haven’t created a standard way regarding connection protocols. Therefore, even if some devices are integrated, the variation in their communication protocols can prevent data aggregation. This non-uniformity and un-standardization slow the entire process, compromising the scope and scalability of the technology in healthcare.

Data overload & accuracy

As earlier stated, implementing IoT can become challenging as a result of variant communication and connection standards and protocols. Beyond this challenge, IoT devices have to record tons of information. The volume of such data can be so high in such a way it is difficult for doctors to derive insights from it. In the end, this affects the service delivery and also comprises the decisions made by the doctors.

Cost

You must be surprised to find cost under the challenges section. However, though it is the bottom line of this disruptive technology, it has not yet made health care services cheaper for the common man. For instance, the increase in medical costs in developing countries is a worrying trend. This situation has given rise to medical tourism whereby people with serious conditions look for health care services in more developed countries. Though it is a fascinating and a promising idea, it hasn’t solved the problem cost. To implement IoT successfully in the health sector and realize optimum benefits from it, all stakeholders have to work together and make it cost-effective so that every person in the world can benefit from it.

Conclusion

With no doubt, the internet of things has the capacity to transform healthcare services as we know it. The technology can improve services by integrating small numerous changes in the sector.

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