With IoT, or the Internet of Things, millions of networked devices transmit information directly with each other and the cloud, making it easier to collect and analyze multiple data streams more efficiently. This opens up possibilities across various industries, but arguably the greatest promise it offers is in the healthcare sector. IoT offers the capacity to dramatically improve the quality of healthcare while at the same time considerably lowering healthcare costs.
Fueled by the rapid growth in 5G, AI, and Big Data, the IoT healthcare market is expected to grow to $188.2 billion by 2025, up from $72.5 billion in 2020. The State of the Connected World report points out how Covid led to the increased use of IoT devices in healthcare systems. For example, with increasing pressure on hospitals during the pandemic, IoT-based systems eased the load off hospitals and enabled healthcare professionals to monitor patients remotely while not compromising on treatment and care.
Given the benefits, it’s clear that IoT will become a foundational technology for healthcare. But how exactly does IoT in the healthcare sector work?
How Does IoT Assist Healthcare?
First, intelligent sensors accurately measure and collect raw patient data and store them in the cloud. Then, AI and ML algorithms analyze the collected data and send it to medical practitioners and caregivers for review. Based on the data, doctors derive actionable insights and deliver services to patients in real-time.
A global system consisting of sensors, microcontrollers, and mobile-communication devices makes health monitoring, diagnostics, and treatment convenient and easier to access. With the help of IoT, healthcare providers can provide medical services to people at reduced costs, help in disease management and improve the quality of the lives of their patients.
Patients get to monitor their health proactively.
Doctors deliver timely and personalized services to patients.
Hospitals get to track assets, monitor staff, and improve health outcomes.
Also see: Using Digital Twins to Push IoT
Examples of IoT Healthcare Devices
Let’s take a look at some IoT healthcare devices and how they assist healthcare.
Insulin Pens: IoT glucose monitoring devices have embedded sensors that continuously monitor blood sugar levels and send the data to a dedicated smartphone app. The data is shared with doctors who can keep an eye on the blood glucose levels of their patients. For people who are averse to finger-prick tests, insulin pens improve diabetes management and ensure the optimum utilization of insulin doses.
Smart Inhalers: Smart inhalers have sensors that can predict the next asthma attack, and in case of non-compliance, send alerts to patients and remind them to take their medications. Some advanced models of smart inhalers can also warn asthmatics of increased pollen levels or air pollutants.
Brain Sensors: Wireless brain sensors monitor brain activity patterns to diagnose and manage brain disorders. These bio-absorbable sensors are light and can easily detect user input. Once the device serves its purpose, it dissolves by itself. It is helpful in patients who have dementia, TBI, and other brain conditions.
Ingestible Sensors: Ingestible sensors are non-invasive ingestible electronic devices composed of edible materials that get activated once they enter the body. The sensor records the medication taken and transmits signals to a wearable patch on the torso, sending the data to a smartphone app. As a result, doctors can track their patient’s medication and suggest a course of treatment accordingly.
Pros and Cons of IoT in Healthcare
IoT in healthcare offers many advantage, yet it isn’t without drawbacks. It’s therefore essential to weigh all the pros and cons before choosing IoT in healthcare. Let’s explore both the advantages and the challenges.
Major Advantages of IoT in Healthcare
IoT devices help in remote health monitoring. For example, people who suffer from chronic diseases are not required to stay in hospitals. Instead, they can benefit from remote monitoring made possible by using powerful IoT devices. Sensors on these devices capture data and upload it to the cloud, where doctors can view it. If the sensor detects unusual data, it issues an alert and informs both the patient and the doctor so they can act quickly.
Older people living alone would benefit immensely from a monitoring device that could detect a medical emergency and report it immediately to family members and emergency personnel. Additionally, healthy people can maintain the quality of their lives by using wearable gadgets that closely monitor their health and report anomalies if present.
Reduced Healthcare Costs
Patients incur high costs due to frequent hospital visits and hospitalizations. By reducing offline visits, IoT makes treatment more affordable. It also lessens operational costs through real-time asset monitoring.
Tracking of Inventory
Inventory tracking with IoT is a cheap way to keep track of hospital assets. Inventory assets that need tracking are given a unique identification number or tags called RFID. RFID readers read these tags and send them to the cloud for analysis. Based on the data, the cloud delivers users with real-time updates about the item’s location, making the inventory management process highly efficient.
Challenges of IoT in Healthcare
Although IoT benefits the healthcare sector immensely, there are still certain challenges to overcome:
Security and Privacy
There have been several instances of security breaches in the past, with bad actors breaking into IoT systems. In fact, 2021 saw an all-time high of healthcare breaches affecting some 45 million people.
Maintaining the safety of connected devices is highly challenging. These devices generate a massive amount of personal data, which, if hacked, can be a goldmine for threat actors. Thus, considering the huge risks involved, there is a need for tighter governance structures and more proactive methods of monitoring threats.
Risk of Failure
Connected sensors can easily be impacted by software bugs, hardware, or power failures. This can jeopardize healthcare operations and place lives at risk.
A lack of interoperability between IoT devices prevents the complete adoption of IoT, thus limiting its reach. Healthcare institutions use many IoT devices, with various operating systems, that have difficulties in exchanging information with each other. Also, if hospitals use outdated IT infrastructure, then they often have problems integrating with the latest IoT devices.
Data volume and complexity are core challenges associated with using IoT systems. IoT devices are designed to collect as much data as possible. However, this not only results in vast volumes of data but also leads to the generation of complex datasets. As a result of the non-uniformity of data processing, it becomes difficult to derive actionable insights from the data.
The Future of IoT in Healthcare
IoT is proving to be a game changer in the healthcare industry. But for IoT to be successfully used in our current healthcare setup, we will need several enabling technologies to run applications properly; specifically, better solutions around security and and data processing.
In addition, since numerous devices will be required to communicate with each other, the standardization of communication protocols will also be necessary for the advancement and success of IoT in healthcare.