Speculations of how flashy technological innovations like big data, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will affect the field of healthcare are at an all-time high. Separating hype from reality can give an indicator of where these fields are actually headed and how they might have the ability to change the face of healthcare forever.
IoT in healthcare has long been one of those technological innovations that seems like it could truly affect an entire field. For those unfamiliar with the Internet of Things in general, think of it more as the Internet of Everything. IoT devices are simply pieces of technology that have been connected to the internet with the purpose of sending, receiving or collecting information to enhance usability.
Mobile phones are perhaps the most well known IoT innovations. Cell phones used to be explicitly for telecommunications, with little to no internet connections. Enter the smartphone, which now allows everyday people to access an entire world of information on a whim. Enter fitness devices like a heart rate monitor used to function independently of any internet capability, but now can be synced to computers and phones to gain better insights into performance during a workout.
How Is IoT Being Used in Healthcare?
Healthcare based applications of this technology are aiming to expand on doctors’ ability to treat patients with quick and personalized care. This subset of IoT technology is known as the Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT. Data collection and collation have always been hurdles for the medical field and having machines in charge of this task, rather than fallible humans, could prove to be a big step for new cures and better care.
Even the long-standing issue of having too much data to sort through and no singular place to collect it all could be solved with smart IoMT devices that store and tag data correctly. Earmarking relevant data for analysis by humans or AI devices may be the breakthrough that the medical field needs to make sense of all its quantities of information. Diseases that have repelled a fool-proof cure may have finally met their match, too.
IoMT devices and medical technology using AI are being championed as the most effective ways to beat devastating diseases like cancer, and maybe even cure them. An illness like mesothelioma cancer, which often moves sneakily at first and then aggressively once full-blown, could be detected electronically by monitoring IoMT devices before a doctor could do the same. This could extend patient life expectancy considerably.
Beyond disease detection, diagnosis, management, and treatment, IoT could help reduce rising healthcare costs. With the aging baby boomer population, cost reduction is a big theme in healthcare today. Automating care and checkups will reduce labor costs and time expenditures by physicians while providing people with a way to monitor their own health.
Where Is This Technology Taking Us?
These devices pose exciting possibilities for streamlining appointments, bringing care to rural patients, reducing non-essential visits to the doctor’s office and monitoring the health of chronic and recovering patients.
For patients that live further away from medical professionals, visiting the doctor can be time-consuming, expensive and headache inducing. However, with the introduction of connected devices, telehealth appointments could be just as effective as an in-person visit, which could provide much-needed access to care for patients in rural locations.
Patients with chronic or serious diseases can also benefit from this advancing technology. For instance, diabetes patients constantly monitor their blood sugar, so IoMT devices could be life-savers. Elderly patients who live alone could connect their monitoring devices to the internet, setting up alarms and emergency calls if their blood sugar drops too low.
Of course, this is only one scenario, but the potential for helping patients and doctors using this interconnectivity is huge. Allied Market Research predicted that by 2021, the worldwide value of IoT in healthcare will reach $13.8 billion.
With any new technology comes certain threats and pain points, and IoT is no different. Threats like cybersecurity, dependence on technology and HIPAA regulation compliance may make integration and adoption develop more slowly.
Medical records listed on connected systems, though ideally encrypted and consistently backed up to secure servers, could be targets for identity thievery or medical fraud. For some hospitals and patients, updating to electronic records may not be enough of a payoff for the potential risk.
Worries over cybersecurity breaches extend to not only medical records but also to the devices themselves. Medical equipment that is used to keep someone alive, like a pacemaker, oxygen or a life support system, could be vulnerable to hacks if connected to the internet, leaving patients without a fighting chance.
HIPAA compliance currently states that hospitals are responsible for ensuring that all data is secured, controlled and scanned regularly for any security threats. However, even the securest of systems can be in danger of a breach and the stakes happen to be a lot higher in the case of a medical system or device being compromised.
The Future of IoT in Healthcare
Altogether, IoT seems to be an exciting development in the medical field. With growing value and prospects to save money and lives, the positives outweigh the negatives. Risks mentioned above can be patched and continuously assessed to prevent any breaches or loss of machine functionality. Look forward to more news on IoMT advancements and usages to inform your own opinions and monitor the field.