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Health care has faced its share of challenges and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

How will hospitals and doctors expand use of and access to preventive care? How can they effectively manage an aging population’s chronic conditions? Will they be able to deliver on the promise of more personalized medicine? What can be done to reduce costs and make the system easier and more efficient?

One component in answering all those questions is a more continuous care model made possibly by the Internet of Things (IoT). The term refers to the evolving networks of machines and devices that exchange data with each other.

A notable health-related example is a wearable that can take an electrocardiogram. It will automatically contact emergency services if the wearer has fallen and is no longer moving.

Other IoT applications include:

  • A sensor inside a refrigerator that monitors what a person in assisted living has been eating.
  • A patch tracking someone’s glucose levels and sharing it with a computer in a doctor’s office.
  • Smart pills that include a sensor to deliver data to doctors when ingested.

The market for health care IoT devices and services is expected to grow to $158 billion by 2022.1

Most of these mini-webs of collaborating machines are still being refined. However, their potential for improving the quality and the reach of health care is indisputable.

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Kerrie Holley: My pie in the sky wish is what you see in sci-fi movies. The ability of us to walk into our homes and get indicators to tell us where we're eating poorly, where we're eating well. To help us understand the pollutants in the air. A very contextual experience that's alive that detects what we're doing, helps us with behavioral change, helps us live a healthier life.

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Remote monitoring

Imagine how this could benefit doctors or nurse practitioners when remotely monitoring patients recovering from procedures and following complex treatment regimens. This would be especially useful for patients living in rural areas who may not have easy access to health centers.

Wearable devices can keep a doctor up to speed on a patient’s heart rate, sleep habits or physical activity. They can also provide automated alerts to the patient and a caregiver if problems arise, such as an elevated heart rate.

Remote monitoring for early detection and changes in heart failure symptoms is linked to reduced readmissions and mortality within six to 12 months of discharge among heart failure patients. Heart failure programs that provide Bluetooth-enabled scales help program nurses monitor potential exacerbations in symptoms, such as unexplained rapid weight gain.

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Device Voice: Hello, Carol let's see how you're feeling.

Carol: I stand on a scale. There's a little monitor and then magically it talks to you.

Device Voice: we will begin by checking your weight.

Sandra Masco, RN: They answer specific questions related to heart failure. Like are you having more shortness of breath. Are you having more swelling. Have you taken your medications. That information will come to us electronically.

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Using data from devices

Devices that can collect, transmit and interpret a wide range of personal health data could dramatically improve a health professional’s job. With this data, they can provide more informed long-term care management and treatment changes. Health that is measurable is health that’s more easily improved.

There also will be opportunities to use device-driven data to do more predictive health analysis. Information that allows doctors to identify people with higher risks of developing chronic conditions will be vital to preventing complications that are costly and difficult to treat.

Prediction is the key to prevention. It’s also the key to giving patients timely and valuable recommendations to take more control of their health before a crisis occurs.

It’s only a matter of time before data from IoT elements — home monitors, wearables, bedside medical devices — will feed automatically into patient electronic health records, with a patient’s prior approval. This would reduce a doctor’s administrative workload by decreasing data entry and improving automation.2

At the same time, artificial intelligence can extract useful data from EHRs to create electronic notes that distill patient information for doctors.

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Dr. David Albert: I think now that we reimburse for remote patient monitoring, what that means is real-time feedback. I get real-time data, get to review it, I get paid for it and now I don't have to wait for six months or the next time you come in to see me. I can intervene earlier. So the promise -- not the proof but the promise -- is that this data that we collect -- weight, blood pressure, cardiac rythym, whatever it is -- will enable us to help coach, change behaviors and intervene earlier. And that might keep you the patient healthier -- that's the promise.

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Hospital command centers

The impact of IoT goes beyond the patient-doctor relationship. It can upgrade day-to-day hospital operations in a profound way. For example, artificial intelligence command centers at hospitals can pull in data from several IoT operations.

They can then prioritize activities in different sections of the hospital based on need. That enables the hospital to assign beds faster and discharge patients more quickly. It also could maximize the use of operating rooms and lab facilities, two of the more lucrative elements of a hospital.

There certainly are challenges that need to be addressed before IoT can reach its full potential. First, there is the need to ensure patient privacy. Another big issue is the lack of reliable broadband connectivity in many rural communities, where remote health monitoring of patients could be most helpful.

Hospitals and medical facilities should have wireless networks that can handle the swelling flow of data from all these devices. It is also important for them to have systems that allow health professionals use the data efficiently.

Nevertheless, IoT’s role in delivering quality health care will continue to expand. Its ability to help improve chronic disease management, drug delivery systems and preventive health strategies while lowering costs should make it a core component — and a true benefit — to our industry. 

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References

  1. Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions. Medtech and the Internet of Medical Things: How connected medical devices are transforming health care. July 2018. Accessed June 17, 2019.
  2. Advisory Board. The Internet of Things (IoT) in Health Care. 2018. Accessed April 8, 2019.

 

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