The healthcare industry is under constant pressure regarding costs and quality, and the main challenge is creating a balance between the two. Inspired by the cost-cuts offered by smart systems in other areas like aviation and retail, healthcare is starting to adopt the latest trend in efficiency, the Internet of Things (IoT). This is an umbrella term for all the smart devices that can record data about a process, connect to a server to transmit it or even do some basic processing and send only the result.
Advantages of using IoT in healthcare
As stated, costs are important in this line of business since most of the times budgets are tight and affected by restrictive legislation. IoT devices allow medical staff to focus on value added actions instead of wasting time walking between wards and reading patients’ vital signs with devices using centuries-old technology. The smart sensors in a hospital room can regulate the light, temperature, and humidity as needed by each patient and can completely shut-down reserves that are not being used with a positive impact on bills.
Inventory management is another area where IoT can increase efficiency and automate processes. The most useful items here are radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) which can be used to track drugs and pair patients with their treatments. By attaching a wristband and scanning the drug labels, the nurse can be sure there are no medical errors in administering the dosage or the type of treatment. A simple application records in the system the drug tags that have been used, creating a necessity list, and through vertical integration with the supplier, the hospital can be sure it never misses vital medication.
Security is also a top priority in any medical facility since patients are vulnerable, immobilized in beds and with no means to defend themselves. Each unit should design their access rights policy and provide employees and patients with access cards. Some areas like drug storage and bio-material coolers should be the best guarded.
Prevention is better than treatment, and according to Itransition, IoT development has the power to transform patient monitorization and quick intervention from firefighting to routine management.
Although the benefits underlined so far are important, the most notable contribution of IoT is the enhanced experience the patient receives, compared to a hospital stay a few years ago. Devices successfully replace routine tasks, originally performed by nurses. These include raising the bed to the most comfortable position, keeping track of medication, alerting doctors when a particular level of a substance is out of the normal range and more. This care can be extended to the patient’s home by using individual devices that pair with smartphones, much in the same way sports wearables work, but for different needs.
IoT technology for healthcare
There are numerous IoT applications in healthcare, and many others are being developed each day. In this context, it is worth mentioning the sensors that monitor chronic diseases such as diabetes, activity trackers for cancer patients, inhalers, and connected contact lenses.
This is a significant disruption in the industry; long gone are the days of pen and paper. Electronic health records are the medical passports of a patient and through deep learning algorithms they will be able to diagnose patients before the disease reaches a dangerous stage.
Smart devices will soon replace the necessity for nurses to spend their time doing chores and free valuable hours in which to use their skills in helping only with the tasks that require human decision-making.
Patient monitorization will also be different, as sensors will transmit in real time any changes in the body. Nanotechnology allows sensors to be packed in pills and either be eliminated naturally or self-destruct after performing the necessary tasks.
Most of these devices will empower patients to keep track of the changes in their body in real-time and give them the opportunity to make positive changes immediately, decreasing the risk of disease escalation. This type of monitoring and easy access to vital information via a smartphone can be the base for improved patient education.
Risks of IoT for healthcare
As with all applications using sensitive data, IoT devices for healthcare monitoring are subject to security issues, and the concerns are real. In the wrong hands, health-related data can be more damaging that fiscal information. Medical records of prominent people have always been a favorite target for the media and the risk of them being accessed remotely by hacking into the system is high if data is not encrypted.
Since these devices are in their infancy from the perspective of market adoption, there are no clear rules and guidelines to follow about the way a network including these should be built to be as usable and as safe as possible.
The most important risk is the democratization of such devices. Right now, due to high costs, their use is restricted to medical facilities, and they can be controlled, but as they become more accessible, the hacking or misuse risks increase exponentially. Soon insulin pumps or cardiac regulators will be available off the rack like fitness trackers, and the data they produce will be uploaded to platforms that need to be secured with top encryption abilities.
Future developments and directions
Although controversial and not sufficiently tested, IoT devices will be one of the significant improvements in healthcare in the next few decades. Their power comes from the enhanced experience they offer patients. Different devices can successfully replace the actions of a nurse, act as reminders or as alert systems. Having a clear image in real-time of the body’s response to treatments leads to an informed decision and an improved outcome. Using IoT gadgets in hospital logistics and management saves time, makes processes faster and more accurate. The success of this approach will rely greatly on the way the privacy and security issues are solved.