Evolution of IoT playing a crucial role in the healthcare sector

-By Uttam Kumar, Senior General Manager – IT, Aircel

Healthcare is one of the world’s biggest economic challenges. The growing population is placing further strain on healthcare systems. In 2010, there were 207 million people over 75 years of age worldwide. This figure will rise to 265 million by 2020. With a growing aging population and the prevalence of chronic diseases across the world, there is an urgent need to find new ways to improve patient outcomes, increase access to care, and reduce the cost so that all segment of the society can afford a medical care.

With the advancements in sensor technology & IOT, the ubiquitous availability of cellular technology like 3g & 4g, and falling costs of communication devices are opening up new channels for improving patient care and quality of life. Using seamless, continuous remote patient health monitoring, healthcare providers, insurance payers, and the government are looking to significantly alter how care is provided to patients, while reducing cost of care at the same time.

Machine to machine (M2M) is a broad label that can be used to describe any technology that enables networked devices to exchange information and perform actions without the manual assistance of humans. M2M communication is often used for remote monitoring. Key components of an M2M system include sensors, RFID, a Wi-Fi or cellular communications link and autonomic computing software programmed to help a networked device interpret data and make decisions.

The most well-known type of IOT communication is telemetry, which has been used since the early part of the last century to transmit operational data. Pioneers in telemetrics first used telephone lines — and later, on radio waves — to transmit performance measurements gathered from monitoring instruments in remote locations. The Internet and improved standards for wireless technology have expanded the role of telemetry from pure science, engineering and manufacturing to healthcare.

In healthcare specifically, IOT applications have the potential to:

• Reduce healthcare costs by allowing clinical staff to remotely work together and instantly access patient data.
• Serve a growing population of patients with chronic illnesses by allowing physicians to remotely monitor the patient’s long—term health & out of hospital care.
• Improve diagnoses by bringing together data from disparate devices (e.g. monitors, images, therapeutic devices) over time to form a complete picture of a single patient’s health status.
• Improve medical equipment functionality and maintenance of equipment’s.
• Significantly improving the functioning of healthcare ICT systems by improving information sharing wirelessly.
• Monitor the consumption of medicines on time.
• Reduce the time to settle the insurance claim and admission for insured persons.
• Transform the data generated in an ambulance during the transit to the hospitals and doctors in real time, thereby making the emergency care more efficient. In most of the cases, the ambulance and the ICT system of hospitals have difficulty in integrating and exchanging information.

In India particularly, IOT can also help in monitoring the functioning of the rural health care units, can make the skilled doctors available remotely and make the healthcare more affordable. The success of any healthcare program depends on the awareness about the diseases and m2m can help improving the skills of staffs bring more awareness about the latest diseases spread in the nearby areas.

Connected Devices

The demand for connected devices spans multiple industries. The need for sensors and devices that can report or take action on certain conditions provides a new level of convenience, efficiency and automation. Healthcare industries are closely watching this trend to see if and how the Internet of Things will play a role in healthcare service and what value it can add.

Connected devices are used in various forms. Be it fetal monitors, electrocardiograms, temperature monitors or blood glucose levels, tracking health information is vital for many patients. Many times it requires follow-up or face to face interaction with a healthcare professional. So IoT creates opportunity for smarter devices to deliver more valuable data, decrease the need for direct patient-physician interaction in many cases, brings in efficiency in delivering services starting from patience registration, keeping accurate health records of patience, proactive diagnosis etc.

Hospitals have begun experimenting with “smart beds”. These beds detect when a patient movements. Adjust it-self to ensure appropriate support without the manual interaction. Technology is leveraged and integrated with home medication to automatically upload data to the cloud. It helps to identify situations when medication isn’t taken or any other indicators for which the care team should be alerted.

Patients and healthcare providers both stand to benefit from IoT. Some uses of healthcare IoT are mobile medical applications or wearable devices that allow patients to capture their own health data. Hospitals adopt IoT to keep control on the location of medical devices, personnel and patients. For example healthcare service provider can leverage on Telematics for their Ambulance Service, manage emergency field force. Integrated vehicle telematics with Hospital emergency service can save thousands of lives by providing medical service just in time. Blood banks also can leverage on VTS, Blood bank Monitoring, Temperature monitor and control.

Internet of Things implementations has definitely raised concerns around data privacy and security. While most of today’s devices use secure methods to communication information to the cloud, they could still be vulnerable. So there is need of guidelines and regulators will continue to regulate connected devices used by patients.

The IoT layer in healthcare also brings in certain challenges. We cannot deny the fact of data explosion which is already happening. There are possibilities of overloading physicians with too much data and which may cause distraction. So that could dilute the year’s long way of working for practitioners of treating patients. So this needs a caution in adaptation of technology.

IOT for Medical Equipment Functionality and Maintenance

Connected devices can also help healthcare providers track their assets in the field and reduce the risk of theft. M2M-enabled devices can help in Monitoring medical equipment’s.

• Using live performance data to spot early signs that maintenance is required, avoiding downtime caused by equipment failure.
• Check whether patients are taking their medication at the right time and the right dosage, and remind them to do so.
• Monitor long-term trends in patients’ conditions, including evaluating progress towards agreed patient goals.
• Verify whether any medical equipment in the patient’s home requires maintenance.

What’s holding healthcare IoT back?

The evolution of healthcare IoT, is not without its challenges. Could IoT data, thousands of devices for remote patient monitoring, changes in ways of working be too much for them to handle? As this deal with lives off human beings, there is always debate on liabilities for the risk technology brings.

But needless to say, Internet of Things is the future and have embarked on its own journey. It is going to change our lives and the way we used to do things. The adaptation in healthcare domain will be faster as the sensor/device gets more robust and reliable, involve patient more in their own care, offer patient faster and more accurate health advice, possibilities to reach out to more and more patient still have no access to advanced healthcare.

The application of IOT enabled information management systems to healthcare is challenging. The healthcare sector’s fragmented constituencies and complex transactions present a major challenge. It is too early to right-off the potential impact of IOT as mere hype, but it is clear that progress is slow and there are many barriers to overcome. In terms of care, the impacts are likely to be in such areas as quality control, patient safety and general improvements in outcomes and performance. The new mHealth systems allow greater transparency and quick and easy access to medical data while maintaining very stringent requirements for security, safety, and patient-doctor confidentiality and privacy.

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