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Practical Use of the Internet of Things in Healthcare

By: Eric Luyer, Market Research Analyst

Reading my daily newspaper as well as checking Social Media, there is a lot of information around the new concept of “Internet of Things” (IoT). This term encompasses the latest technology around connected devices within a network and includes all the valuable, collected information from data and intelligence from all kinds of different devices.  Linked to these new developments, you will find companies that are focusing on this data and building new, highly relevant applications in specific markets or for specific communities.

This is for sure the case within the medical and healthcare environments.  In fact, it is interesting to see how the concept of IoT is changing healthcare strategies, business models and affecting healthcare operations. In this environment, we are talking more and more about the Internet of Medical Things.  Let’s look at some examples that have been discussed in the media and are currently available in daily healthcare practices.

More and more medical doctors and surgeons are analysing scans with the help of a new technology platform developed by IBM called Watson Health.  Based on its cognitive computing capabilities, Watson Health can deliver faster and deeper insights in a specific medical situation by assessing large amounts of (medical) patient data.   Physicians can potentially determine a diagnosis at an earlier stage, which would provide for an earlier starting point of patient treatment and ultimately the recovery process.

The combination of the example above and the fast growing power and capabilities of the smart phone is also becoming increasingly visible in healthcare environments.  This brings new opportunities for patient monitoring at home, such as measuring blood pressure or an electrocardiogram (ECG). There is already a trend to do this at home and not in the hospital. 

Image Credit: Empatica
Image Credit: Empatica

Numerous new health applications (apps) that can be used on your smartphone, as well as wearable health devices, are also becoming available.  See our related article: The Race for Your Wrist. Combined with an internet connection, it is possible to do many of these (little) health-monitoring activities at home or on-the-go and transmit that data to a healthcare provider system or directly to an electronic health record (EHR).

Another example of the “internet of medical things” is a new pediatric medical device being developed by Georgia Tech and Emory University – both in Atlanta GA, USA – which could make life easier for every parent who has rushed to the doctor with a child screaming from an ear infection. Soon, parents may be able to skip the doctor’s visit and receive a diagnosis without leaving home by using a remotoscope, a clip-on attachment and software app that turns an Apple iPhone into an otoscope.

IBM is working on a project in the UK integrating across a variety of connected systems. For example, a wearable alarm device can dispatch an ambulance and the information transmitted to the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) would include both the patient records and the exact location of the patient. The ambulance’s GPS would then be able to direct the driver around traffic to pick up and transport the patient to the appropriate care facility in a timely fashion.

Speaking about so-called “wearables”, Michael Fahey, IBM Offering Manager for Exogeneous Data, IBM Watson Health has a vision of at-home monitoring with wearable devices that would transmit data to a central station (at a healthcare campus or hospital). Deviations of the patient from the “norm” would be addressed in a timely fashion by a health practitioner, resulting in earlier intervention and better quality care at a lower cost.  See our related article series: IBM’s Grand Vision for Better Healthcare.

Large amounts of data have become easily available through increased computing power in combination with smart phones, ubiquitous communication devices, and the cloud.  There is a “natural” need to analyse the data to provide new applications for practical use. This is specifically the case in healthcare where patients are becoming more “information conscious” and want to be active participants when their health is at stake.

These changes in Healthcare are not easy and take time to become adopted by different healthcare communities and stakeholders.

Technology makes it possible to shorten the time for doctors and patients to access health status results.  The examples I mentioned previously give us some proof of how this new technology is already being used today.  There are plenty of other practical and useful situations that will allow for quicker and better decision making to ultimately benefit the patient’s health.

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