Healthcare is one of the most ambivalent fields as far as the adaptation of Internet of Things is concerned. In some sense, healthcare can be considered as a pioneer, while in some regards it is way more hesitant to adopt the possibilities offered by IoT than, for instance, transportation, housing, and online media. On the one hand, remote data gathering technology was used long before IoT conquered technological space. However, these solutions can merely be treated as the precursors of IoT as they were not connected to the great network of the internet. On the other hand, the inevitable higher awareness of data security may cause some reluctance to explore the possibilities provided by complex connected systems.
Wide range of smart gadgets and connected systems are indeed available on the market. Health monitoring can be initiated long before seeing a doctor or entering a hospital. We don’t need much else than our smart phone to start a more professional observation of our body. According to the statistics presented by Oisin Lunny and John Romero at the IoT Solutions World Congress in 2016, there were 99% connected phones compared to population globally in the beginning of 2016, and this number rose up to 1.39 connected phones per person in Eastern, and 1.24 phones in Western Europe. In a 2014 USA smartphone behavior survey, 87% of the asked claimed that their smartphone never leaves their side, night or day. These figures depict that our phones are probably the most used items we have; therefore, they can be our most loyal observers.
There are apps to educate you about healthy eating habits, such as Fooducate, while also following mood, sleep and hunger level to present you with a customized choice. Fitness programs can track your steps and the time spent with exercising. If you are suspecting some health problems or you have a condition that requires constant attention, you can purchase pocket-size gadgets that can be connected to your phone to keep track of your heart and respiratory rate, blood sugar level, blood pressure, analyse breathing patterns and many more.
Besides, professional remote patient-monitoring, or telemetry can be suggested and required by professional healthcare providers as well as a potential source of real-time data about patients staying either in the hospital or enjoying home environment. This is undoubtedly the most advanced and rapidly developing segment regarding IoMT (Internet of Medical Things).
Also, telemetry combined with symptom analyses is the textbook example of IoT. Vast amount of precise, live data can be gathered about patients’ health condition even from a distant location via connected devices. Data can be fed into machine learning; processing and depicting the complex set of data about the individual and comparing it with other cases can assist in diagnostics. Data analysis is also able to detect any extreme measurements and create alerts. Smart healthcare systems are often able to call ambulance or contact family members in case of emergency.
If, despite all the smart prevention steps and remote monitoring devices, you are recommended to go to a hospital you may find further IoT systems and connected devices – you may even rest on one of them. Smart beds can be an asset for the patient, the nurses, and the hospital administration. Smart bed armored with pressure sensors can adjust itself to ensure the best support and comfort to patients – which can radically improve hospital experience, especially if you are bound to your bed. In case the bed is also upgraded with biometric sensors, it can reduce the number of wires and attached devices creating a more patient and nurse friendly environment. The new generation of sleeping furniture can also detect when it is occupied and it can warn nurses when a patient is attempting to get up.
In addition to the smart beds, there are other ways to follow the status and position of patients that can take shape in intelligent wearables: smart tags. These devices can be especially useful in elderly care, or in case of wandering patients, when knowledge about the exact location of the individual is a high priority. In addition to location tracking, smart hospital tags for patients expedite information flow, and reduce the chance of mistakes by providing live information about patients including health condition, planned and prior treatments.
However, not only patients, but valuable equipment require attention as well. Preparing the operation theater for a surgery is less of a challenge if you are aware of the exact position of all the necessary equipment. It is also essential to know that technology will not interfere with the success of a surgery or treatment. Internet connected sensors create alarms when an expensive equipment needs maintenance preventing the danger of imprecise results or costly repair or replacement. In 2016 IoT World Congress Philips introduced an MRI with complex sensor system monitoring humidity, temperature, chiller function, cold head function, magnet pressure, magnetic field, helium level, and power supply. Based on data garnered from multiplicity of sources the smallest malfunctioning can be detected protecting both the equipment and the patient; fostering preventive maintenance instead of repair. E-alerts and smart monitoring is also a real asset for storing temperature sensitive medicines, when warning is sent by the refrigerator kiosk if change in temperature is detected. The very first application of IoT can come in handy as well, as similarly to the vending machines, intelligent, network connected kiosks also inform about the available inventory.
Reducing maintenance costs by facilitating prevention instead of repair and analyzing medicine supplies and needs are no doubt economical solutions in the long run. There is even more to IoT regarding cost efficiency, though. Connecting device IoT with patient monitoring maximize the efficiency of “throughput,” or in other words, how fast patients move through the hospital and treatment system. According to a study by California Health Care Foundation, synchronized patient tracking is the most effective way to free hospital space. Adding physical capacity can cost as much as a million dollar per bed. The study, calculating with an average of five days of hospital stay, estimated the enabled extra admissions per bed to seventy patients annually.
The study highlights that using the available sources with the best capacity and efficiency is a more economical approach. The study shows that reducing average hospital stay with only four hours will increase the capacity of a 275-bed hospital with the equivalent of 10 new beds or seven hundred patients annually. IoT is the key to reach this hidden potential. Typical to IoT solutions, the process starts with data collection, in this case on available assets, workstations, and staff while also storing information on patients’ needs. Then the workflow can be analysed and modified to achieve maximum efficiency. The paper sums up the positive outcomes in a long list including “increased throughput, decreased average length of stay, improved recording of treatment costs (charge capture), fewer ambulance diversions, and higher patient satisfaction ratings.”
According to the recent, international Aruba study on IoT mass adaption, healthcare is responding relatively well to the IoT market taking advantage of the wide range of possibilities. The study shows that 60% of healthcare providers use some sort of IoT technology. According to Forbes article and BCG Internet of Things buyer survey, this means the fifths position in IoT spending, however, with a significantly less expected growth till 2020 than the rest of the sectors. The Internet of Things Heat Map, 2016 suggests that smart products are the most trending opportunity in IoMT, marked as “hotter.” Aruba study came to similar conclusions, as the survey participants reported monitoring and maintenance as the primer use of connected devices; not surprisingly patient monitoring stated to be the most used sector in the field. Aruba has also presented some alarming figures indicating that 89% of the healthcare providers participating in the survey have experienced an IoT related security breach. In all probability, this percentage has only grown with the recent WannaCry malware attack hitting Britain’s National Health Service among many other organisations.
This menacing number may be accounted for a more cautious approach to IoT application in healthcare, where protection of privacy is top priority. Ensuring data privacy and information security is indeed an obstacle not easy to overcome due to its several components. IoT based services, especially in healthcare, are essential to be available persistently, without interruption. Not properly protected smart grids and remotely controllable devices mean a high risk. These devices often monitor vital signs or control life functions, understandably, they are crucial to remain in the right hands. As Scott Erven, associate director at Protiviti, shared with IoT Agenda, essential safety is not always ensured. He mentioned the alarming case of two Austrian patients, who decided to take control over their infusion pumps as they didn’t consider pain management sufficient. After hacking the system, the self-righteous patients managed to overdose themselves causing health complications.
In addition to patient safety, individual rights require protection as well. Information stolen from health application may expose sensitive data about patients allowing blackmailing, public shaming, and even physical attacks. Tendencies towards rapid data collection and information exchange for a more interconnected, effective healthcare service further increase safety hazards.
Nonetheless, it is possible to minimize or even cease the risk of security breach. Security problems are often not addressed in the right development phase. Practice shows that in many cases protective measures are taken only after the new system is functional, and already in place. Such a practice does not only reduce the effectiveness of the applied solution, but it also means higher costs. That is why it always should be a high priority to choose a considerate, reliable partner for developing the desired IoT solution, who pays attention to the question of security as early as the design stage, so you can explore the advantages of the new technology without fear.