5 ways IoT is changing healthcare

How IoT is making healthcare safer, more precise, and more accessible.

Healthcare has always been an essential part of society. It directly correlates with scientific discoveries, technological advancements, and economic booms. The exponential rise in the human population and rapid mutations in disease-infected pathogens have greatly strained the healthcare sector. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted this problem. On one hand, more than half of the population is finding it hard to pay their healthcare bills, while, on the other, doctors are flooded with appointments, causing misdiagnoses leading to severe consequences. While technology may not be able to cure all diseases, it could certainly help make healthcare easier and more consumer-friendly. 

IoT-based devices are on the rise, and their applications in the healthcare sector have been widely adopted. According to Markets and Markets,

“The global IoT medical devices market is projected to reach USD 94.2 billion by 2026 from USD 26.5 billion in 2021, at a CAGR of 28.9% during the forecast period.”

IoT promises to help healthcare organizations in providing personalized, accessible, and up-to-the-point healthcare services at a lower cost. It offers an inexpensive, more accurate, and improved patient experience. 

This article sums up how IoT is making healthcare safer, more precise, and more accessible. 

Remote Diagnosis

Imagine that a chronic heart patient has a stroke. The nearest hospital is miles away. He could just wait an hour for the on-call doctor to reach his house. Or he could test his fate by jumping into the rush of traffic. If the patient was crazy rich, he could hire a physician to look after him 24/7. However, what if someone is not rich. Does he lose the right to live? Engineers are now working on IoT-based solutions that allow equal healthcare opportunities for all. 

Remote health monitoring is the process of using technology to monitor patients in non-clinical environments, such as their homes. Unlike other telehealth delivery methods, remote health monitoring does not require interactive audio-video and virtual visits, instead, it only requires technology to collect physiological data. IoT devices can automatically collect health metrics like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and more from patients, eliminating the need for patients to travel to the providers or for patients to collect it themselves. The data collected by these devices can be sent to healthcare professionals via an application or can be fed into an algorithm that raises alerts in case of abnormal results. While the technique can be used in a multitude of conditions, it is commonly used to monitor heart conditions and diabetes. 

As more and more companies get interested in Remote Health Monitoring, more solutions will emerge. A&D Medical is working on a suite of remote monitoring apps and devices that allow patients to connect their health data with providers and keep family, caregivers, and medical professionals constantly updated on patient health. Devices such as a connected scale, wearable fitness tracker, connected blood pressure monitor, and a sleep tracker send data to providers and allow patients to graph and see how their health changes. The cardiac home monitoring tools offered by Biotronik aim to replace unnecessary doctor’s visits through early detection of cardiac health risks. Devices are equipped with an antenna and extra storage capacity that connect to a patient device called CardioMessenger. Through CardioMessenger, clinical data (e.g., vitals, health information) is collected, encrypted, and sent to a patient’s provider and categorized by importance based on a patient’s most pressing health needs.

Robotic Surgeries 

Gone are the days when surgery was considered a risky job. IoT has now enabled surgeons to perform complex procedures that are difficult to manage using human hands. The use of IoT technology helps in assisting the robotic system to achieve human-like automation in various healthcare services. By deploying small internet-connected robots inside the human body, surgeons can perform complex operations. Moreover, AI integrated robots can conduct surgeries relating to different healthcare domains. These include urology, orthopaedics, and many more. These solutions reduce the size of incisions and hence are less invasive and lead to faster recoveries. The primary advantage of IoT-based robots is the collection of accurate data and simultaneous display on a screen. Doctors can use this data for intelligent decisions in crucial instances. 

Intuitive Surgical's flagship system called da Vinci assists surgeons in performing surgical procedures using precision robotic arms that act with minimal invasion: the heart of the system is a console that presents the surgeons with a sharp, enlarged 3D display of the surgery area, in a way that helps them identify its structures and better understand its anatomical state. At the same time, the console interprets the surgeon's hand movements to robotic arms that perform the procedure through minimal incisions. The software even provides real-time alerts, guidance, and information that assist decision-making in the operating room. In the end, Intuitive produces analytics of the system's performance that provide a deeper understanding of the process as well as insights for the future. 

Ingestible Sensors 

Who wouldn’t like to avoid external probes during a check-up? Ingestible Sensors are pills that can detect various bodily functions and activities, medication checks, heart rate, and blood pressure. Using IoT, the data produced by this technology can be readily seen and reviewed online, and accessed by both users and physicians. The outputs provide invaluable information to reveal the state of gut health and disorders as well as the impact of food, medical supplements, and environmental changes on the gastrointestinal tract. One unique feature of such ingestible sensors is that their passage through the gut lumen gives them access to each organ of the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, ingestible sensors offer the ability to gather images and monitor luminal fluid and the contents of each gut segment including electrolytes, enzymes, metabolites, hormones, and the microbial communities.

Proteus Digital Health has created an ingestible sensor as well as a process -based on existing solid-dosage manufacturing technology-for inserting them into a drug tablet or capsule to create a digital-medicine combination drug product. 

Wearables

IoT devices in the form of wearables are excellent methods through which the healthcare staff can collect data about sleep patterns, activity, heart rate, and temperature. These wearables are synced with your smartphone or smartwatch and offer real-time information. Sensors may indicate if there is a problem and the user can get himself checked up at a healthcare facility. This is particularly helpful for diabetes patients, who require constant supervision and have to observe strict preventative measures. Not only is it inconvenient to have to check glucose levels and manually record results, but doing so reports a patient’s glucose levels only at the exact time the test is provided. If levels fluctuate widely, periodic testing may not be sufficient to detect a problem. IoT sensors can help patients lead a more normal life, with fewer doctor appointments and more control over their treatment. Sensors can provide real-time glucose, body temperature, and contextual data in graphical forms to patients. Glucose monitoring devices eliminate the need to keep records manually and they can alert the patients when glucose levels are problematic. All of this can be done while the patient enjoys the comfort of his home.

IoT-based wearables have reduced the need for the elderly to remain in healthcare facilities, as they can be monitored without them being present in a healthcare facility. Several companies are also tapping into this field. Smart Watches can now track the number of steps taken, heartbeat, blood pressure, calories lost, etc. This has directly contributed to fitness awareness for the younger generation, promoting a healthier lifestyle. 

Garmin makes a wide range of devices, including fitness and health tracking wearables for adults and children. Garmin also offers an all-day activity tracker that counts steps, distance, intensity, and calories, helping users maintain health and fitness goals.  In addition to many other uses and applications, Apple Watch has a variety of health tracking features that include heart rate notifications about irregular rhythms and heart rates that are too high or too low. The watch even has an electrocardiogram (ECG) app and auto-enabled fall detection for users over 65.

Considering IoT-based devices are something very recent, their applications in the healthcare sector have not been explored properly. The solutions existing in the market currently, however, have revolutionized the sector. Coupled with COVID-19, they have set the mark for huge advancements to come this way. IoT is predicted to lead to a major boom in the healthcare sector, and coming years are expected to prove this claim.

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