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Integrating IoT devices within healthcare systems allows professionals and individuals to have access to new health-related data used for informed, personalized healthcare applications and situations.
The Internet of things (IoT) has come a long way in the past few years and continues to improve at an exponential rate. We can now see the benefits of IoT in our daily lives, ranging from the devices on our wrists to technology incorporated into smart buildings.
While we are still adapting to IoT in our personal lives, companies and entire industries have an opportunity to capture and engage with the growing population of digital-savvy consumers. Of these industries, healthcare will benefit significantly from the integration of IoT devices. The primary application of IoT available today is monitoring personal health data, such as sleep patterns, caloric intake, heartrate and others. This information offers a wealth of knowledge to healthcare providers that can be incorporated and applied to improve operations and patient care.
The Internet of things is a network of physical objects or “things” with embedded electronics, software, or sensors, as well as the connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with manufacturers, people and other connected devices. By allowing objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, IoT creates a direct connection between the physical world and computer-based devices.
IoT enables data information to be easily handled, resulting in benefits such as:
· Availability of actionable information vs raw data
· Tracking in real time
· Better situational awareness
· Autonomous operation
· Low power requirements
· Reduced or eliminated controlling complex systems
· Reduced infrastructure investments, improved quality and security of information
· Alternative methods for data transmission when network bandwidth is limited
Integrating IoT devices into the healthcare system is the next step in advancing medicine and medical practices. In the healthcare industry, this technology is referred to as the Internet of Things for Medical Devices (IoT-MD). This category includes retail consumer products, such as fitness bands and digital scales, as well as connected medical devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers.
The process behind IoT-MD allows users’ mobile and medical devices to monitor and transmit personal data through the devices to secure clouds or medical-based platforms where findings can be analyzed to create actionable, data-driven measures and recommendations.
The healthcare industry is reliant on data to make informed decisions that impact the lives of patients. As IoT-MD continues to grow, healthcare providers and partners will have access to an unprecedented amount of raw data that can be analyzed to improve patient care.
The applications of IoT-MD are limitless as new technologies develop and available data grows with new information. The following are a few applications of IoT-MD:
Checking vitals of infants and the elderly
These individuals are at crucial points in their lives where health is critical and can have detrimental effects if not properly examined. Both infants and the elderly share similar issues that need to be monitored, such as dietary intake, digestive processes, functional bodily movement, heart and breathing rates, transferable diseases and many other factors.
Attaching IoT-MD sensors to patients helps medical providers in both the short- and long-term. Moment-to-moment data collection is beneficial for instantaneous care, which includes changing diapers, monitoring movements in bed and alerts for an abnormal heartbeat. Collecting data over time builds a comprehensive medical profile for an individual that can be used to create a personalized health plan or to make recommendations to enhance a patient’s quality of life.
Managing personal fitness and health
Monitoring vitals is integral to any health plan, whether or not someone is considered healthy. These measurements are used to assess personal growth and improvement in terms of fitness and overall health. This area of IoT-MD is the most consumer-facing with more smart health products on the shelves every day.
Wearables such as step trackers, electronic water bottles and connected clothing provide specific data about individuals’ activities. This information can be analyzed to determine if someone meets an adequate level of physical exercise or to monitor a person’s consumption of recommended nutrients and hydration for optimal fitness results.
Monitoring chronic diseases
As of 2012, nearly half of all adults in the U.S.-117 million people-had one or more chronic health conditions, while 25% of adults had two or more. The most common, costly, and preventable conditions include heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity and arthritis.
Utilizing IoT-MD to monitor chronic illnesses provides a new method of collecting breakthrough medical information. Internal monitors and wearable sensors send a constant flow of information to individuals and medical providers, which alert for changes in health conditions while building a medical profile for future healthcare needs. Cell phones and mobile devices are also adapting to IoT-MD through medically approved attachments and apps used to monitor blood samples or send reminders to perform physical therapy exercises.
First responders remotely accessing information
First responders, by definition, are the first onsite in an emergency. These individuals come into medical situations with little to no information, which makes accessing information quickly very important.
First responders are trained to collect information while administering aid to help better assess the situation and uncover any potentially unknown factors. This process includes accessing mobile devices for emergency contacts, as well as home address, allergies and recent call history. IoT-MD will play an integral role for first responders in the future, as encryption and passcodes currently limit access abilities.
As technology and data continue toward integration, emergency responders will have access to comprehensive medical profiles through scanning devices or collecting blood samples, similar to how police officers scan a driver’s license for background records. Ambulances and responder vehicles will also be fitted with advanced IoT-MD devices, transmitting live data to and from hospitals to speed up and improve overall emergency procedures.
As IoT-MD continues to integrate in our lives, we will see a convergence of technology and big data as it relates to how we understand and approach healthcare. This evolutionary adaption of technology, both by healthcare providers and individuals, will enable lowered healthcare costs, better patient treatments and real-time health management, as well as personal medical histories that result in operational efficiencies and an improved quality of life.
Ralph Burns is president of Healthcare and Life Sciences Services at NTT DATA, Inc., a Global IT Innovator delivering technology-enabled services and solutions to clients around the world.