What is IoT in healthcare?

Wellness is not a problem that only concerns what happens in hospitals because patients get sick outside the places where the doctors are. This is why it is necessary to prevent rather than cure, and this is where the term IoT in healthcare comes into play.

This technological specialisation applied to the health sector acts in various ways in the management and collection of data to detect and prevent diseases, implement protocols for action in emergencies, save time and money, or monitor patients and machines in real-time, among other aspects.

This is possible because IoT is a technology that directly connects all the electronic devices of medical and pharmaceutical use with each other. This allows patients to give their lives without having to go to the doctor’s office because devices such as gadgets take care of the data management and manipulation of the same by automatically sending them to data centers.

In recent years, several initiatives have emerged to incorporate the Internet of Things into healthcare delivery. Until now, most of these have revolved around improving care as such, with some markers being monitored and complicated cases being tracked from home. However, these deployments and use cases have been just the beginning.

With the help of connected objects in a healthcare ecosystem, healthcare staff’s work can become much more immediate and accurate and facilitate the management of hospital facilities, or even health units are providing primary care, thereby improving patient wellbeing.

The medical spectrum that IoT can enter is vast; it is such a large ecosystem that it is beginning to include new technologies for self-monitoring, the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare insurance, construction of buildings or facilities that will later provide medical care, robotics, biosensors, smart beds, smart pills, and telemedicine, among others.

By including this modality of technology, actions can be achieved to reduce possible latent neglect in health units. For example, there are smart beds capable of self-monitoring and alerting as soon as they are unoccupied, alternating also, regulating the patient’s pressure and position to save time, and having the availability to focus on all users in the same way.

Of course, the entry of IoT into the healthcare sector does not come without challenges. Patient health status information is sensitive, requiring sensors to be accurate, and the algorithms that interpret them well-calibrated. At the same time, patients must be assured that their private information will not be shared or published for any reason without their consent.

Another major challenge facing the use of IoT in healthcare is the economic gap between individuals and technologies. To fully exploit the potential of new technologies, the use of smartphones and wearables is essential, but access to these healthcare IoT devices is not universal. In response to this problem, governments of various nations have initiated agreements with the private sector to democratise mobile devices through subsidised rates and reduced costs.

These efforts seek to initiate a long-term project that connects medical services with their patients in a useful, permanent way and uses Digital Health with all its developments to ensure a better medical future for the population.

Benefits of using IoT in healthcare

  • IoT in healthcare leads to improved patient care thanks to a more personalised follow-up. They are offered assistance and help to follow their treatment guidelines correctly.
  • More efficient management of resources added to reduced waiting times.
  • By employing technologies most healthcare users use today for their daily life, IOT in healthcare reduces service costs. Besides, medical equipment is permanently monitored and located.
  • Diagnostic errors are reduced. Thanks to shared knowledge in cloud storage and AI development, it is possible to optimise healthcare; even leading to discoveries and devices, such as the IoT in healthcare examples below.

IoT in healthcare examples

Smart pills

Ability MyCite is known as the “first smart pill”. Developed by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. and Ltd. and Proteus Digital Health, it is an aripiprazole medication intended for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and adjunct to antidepressants.

The pill contains a digital sensor. When swallowed, it sends a signal from the stomach to a phone app, indicating what time the medicine was taken. Such devices help to monitor patients’ adherence to their prescribed medication. Ability MyCite was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last November, opening the door for other companies to start developing more sensor medication.

In a very similar vein is the pill bottle created by AdhereTech. In this case, the bottle carries a sensor that warns when it is opened and sends alerts to the patient when he or she forgets to take the appropriate dose.

Smart emergency service

Emergency services are also joining the evolution and the new paradigm of patient-centered medical service from home. Emergency services are essential. Many lives depend on its excellent and timely management; often, the responsibility lies with the pre-hospital service and emergency medical service quality. So far, several solutions support timely pre-hospital service management, using wireless technologies and IoT as a basis.

Ambulances better equipped to deal with multiple emergencies have emerged during the last decades, but, on the other hand, through technology also the remote emergency service; so much so, that it allows equipping not only the ambulance with very sophisticated equipment but also the patient’s own home that is being monitored and needs such a service.

Smart home healthcare

Home care has become the preferred care for elderly patients, and remote home care is one of the fastest-growing areas in the field of healthcare.

As a result, many applications aimed at one form or another of home care have been developed, implemented, and evaluated. The main objective of these systems is to control better the patient’s health care, which can reduce hospital visits and make it possible to improve the quality of life.

Smart medication service

Successful treatment of any disease depends mostly on compliance by taking the prescribed medication at the right time. Patient-related factors can lead to non-compliance in taking medication, be it psychological factors associated with anxiety, recovery motivation, attitude towards the disease, or forgetfulness of the schedule in the elderly.

In a routine consultation, it is almost impossible for the doctor to detect that the patient is not taking medicine properly unless the patient mentions it himself, which undoubtedly affects the recovery process. For this reason, several drug delivery system projects have emerged to monitor the patient’s medication at home.

Smart portable biomedical devices

The research and development of Smart Wearable Devices (SWD) for personalised services (healthcare being a case in point) have motivated governments and research agencies around the world in recent years. Europe, the United States, and Asia have put considerable interest in funding research projects in which E-Health and ICT topics are the main focus. One example of the numerous projects developed in the United States is the “Oregon Center for Aging and Technology”, a project focused on developing and deploying sensor technology to monitor older adults at home. In Asia, the Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Fund has supported numerous research projects to establish SWDs to monitor cardiovascular function.

Health-focused social networking services

With the IoT, Internet communities are now growing even more, such as social support communities for weight loss, shared through an Internet social network. These people can share their motivations and experiences; the support for these people is as personalised as if they were face-to-face with the doctor, but offers unique aspects of comfort, anonymity, and non-judgemental interaction. The methodology used includes surveys to analyse information. Social support within Internet weight-loss communities deserves more attention and better evaluation; these communities can be improved, so that clinicians can make decisions that contribute to the well-being of these individuals through the use of online social networks, mobile phones, short message service (SMS; text messaging) and blogs.

Telemedicine service

With the development of IoT, many people worldwide can be connected to the Internet via 3G, 4G, and soon 5G technology networks. This has reduced the gap that existed concerning being able to assist patients remotely. The experience in countries such as Colombia, China, and India can be taken as a case study for other developing countries that have unveiled their IoT in healthcare work regarding Telemedicine. In China, the most suitable IoT operation is tested with the Sickroom based on RFID technologies. Another visible example is India, where cancer has become one of the major public health issues due to the rising incidence of the disease in that country. Telemedicine in oncology, using wireless technologies, allows them to provide expert healthcare, assisting in the prevention, early detection, palliative care, and rehabilitation in the treatment of cancer remotely in hard-to-reach places.

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