IoT Applications in Consumer Healthcare

In this final post in our IoT Applications in Healthcare series, Carrie Cosgrove describes how the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is changing the way people consume healthcare services. Remote patient monitoring, health record interoperability, and new opportunities in the caregiving paradigm—e.g. medication compliance—are three of the most salient examples of this transformation.

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Woman, likely a caregiver, pushing a wheelchair
Illustration: © IoT For All

Have you been to a doctor at any point in your life? Congratulations, if you answered “yes,” you’re a healthcare consumer!

Nearly 85 percent of US adults see a healthcare provider at least once a year and US children top that number, coming in at nearly 93 percent a year. We must see those numbers in a greater context when it comes to healthcare consumption: having an appointment with a provider is not the only time humans check on their health. In fact, with the rise of wearable technology and almost constant internet access, we can get a real-time feedback loop of many aspects of our daily health, including activity levels, nutrition, heart rate, blood sugar, and more.

Whereas humans only saw snapshots of their health surrounding doctor appointments before the mass adoption of technology, we can now see a fuller picture of our health day-to-day. This is primarily due to technology existing within consumer IoT.  

Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has a lot of early wins and future potential in the consumer healthcare sector. In my third and final post in the IoT applications in healthcare series, I dive into the applications for healthcare consumers (i.e. you and me!) that will shape everyday healthcare in the coming years.

IoT Consumer Healthcare Applications 

It’s a bit easier to see quick adoption rates of IoT platforms and devices in the consumer sphere than enterprise IoT within large, slow-moving industries such as healthcare. Generally, consumer adoption involves convincing an individual in some way or another to make one purchase or subscription. On the other hand, the enterprise level involves convincing decision-makers to change operational processes and individual behaviors within that organization, license a product for hundreds or thousands of users, and often sign a multi-year contract. Therefore, it makes sense that we’ve already seen some level of success with IoMT adoption with consumers. However, that rate is stagnating. What I want to explore in this final post is the different channels that consumer IoMT can revolutionize how we see healthcare on the individual level once it becomes more widespread.

Without further ado, let’s jump into three potential applications for IoMT that could improve consumer healthcare: remote patient care, health record interoperability, and caregiving.

1. Remote Patient Monitoring

I discussed remote patient monitoring in my previous article in this series, IoT Applications for Healthcare Providers, but while it benefits providers, it also equally—if not more importantly—benefits consumers. Consumers with chronic illnesses, such as kidney disease or autoimmune disorders, are often in some sort of medical facility multiple times monthly, if not weekly.

The costs associated with continuous medical care not only include the reoccurring hospital or visit claims, but also emergency care, transportation to and from the facility, the time spent out of the workforce by the patient or caretaker, and the physical toll on the body. With IoMT, patients can check in with their doctors remotely from home, ask questions and voice concerns about their care plan, and perform simple readings or tests with connected devices that allow for real-time health status updates.

University of Mississippi Medical Center tested a program for patients diagnosed with Type II diabetes in rural regions of Mississippi to complete all health maintenance appointments remotely through connected devices, sensors, and tests. At the end of the preliminary tests, the study found no associated ER visits or hospitalizations for diabetes management. In addition, the patients saved nearly 10,000 miles of travel distance. With the widespread use of similar programs, patients with chronic diseases can save thousands of dollars and hours by bringing care into their homes through connected technology.

The Internet of Medical Things (#IoMT) is changing the way people consume #Healthcare services. Remote patient monitoring, health record interoperability, and medication compliance are three salient examples of this transformation. ||… Click To Tweet

2. Health Record Interoperability

Think back to the last time you went to see a new doctor. Did you have to fill out a form detailing your (and your family’s) entire medical history? Most likely, the answer is yes, sometimes even if that new doctor is in the same health system as your existing doctors. Consumers often forget fine (and not-so-fine!) details in this process, especially when they are required to do it repeatedly.

We often have access to online portals where we can view our health record, test results, and more. This is called an electronic health record (EHR), an existing piece of IoMT. So why can’t offices share EHRs with one another to ease the stress on and forgetfulness of the human mind?

There is currently no standardization with data formatting across EHR systems. Even within the health systems, there can be multiple EHR systems in play. The data between systems is seldom interoperable, which means as consumers, we must be responsible for regurgitating this information over and over again. But even in this confusing and muddled world of EHRs, connected devices that record health data can be connected to multiple EHRs, allowing doctors across a patient’s care plan to receive the same information in near real-time.

The average hospital has 16 disperate EMR vendors in use at affiliated practices
Image Credit: Healthcare IT News

In addition, since EHRs are stored in the cloud, consumers are able to view more of their current health record and status at any point in time to give them better insight on what is noted during and after doctors visits. This empowers consumers to ask more targeted questions and make better decisions regarding their health. In an environment where consumers see the whole healthcare experience as opaque, greater transparency leads to better trust, satisfaction, and retention.

3. Caregiving

Many people are secretly employed in another profession that doesn’t pay a dime: caregiving. Adults often have a double burden of caring for aging parents and growing children, and sometimes don’t even live locally to oversee the process. In situations where the caregiver may care remotely or may not be able to attend all appointments, IoMT can be extremely beneficial to keep all parties in the loop.

Medication compliance is one interesting vertical of IoMT innovation. Pill bottles with connected caps allow caregivers to be alerted if their loved one has or has not taken an important medication. Platforms for compliance sometimes require a patient to shoot a video of taking a medication and allow caregivers to visually confirm that a medication is being taken. Finally, there are innovations in prescription filling. For example, caregivers can be alerted when a prescription needs to be filled and if it hasn’t been done yet, keeping a patient on-track with compliance.

Another example is around EHRs. Some platforms allow for caregivers to create profiles and be given authorized access to their loved one’s health records, so if a caregiver cannot attend an appointment, they can read a recap and see the care plan from the doctor within minutes of the appointment ending. Caregivers can also monitor activity levels, heart rate, medication side effects, and more from anywhere in the world, allowing caregiving to take up fewer hours in a week and give them more time to enjoy with their loved ones.

Conclusion

Consumers will greatly benefit from widespread adoption of IoMT, especially those with diagnosed (and undiagnosed) chronic diseases. While our interactions with healthcare previously existed only within the four walls of healthcare facilities, we now can make any place a point of care. We’re moving towards a better system in which care comes to the consumer when and how they need it. As more transparency is built into healthcare and patients can be served more conveniently, people will see a shift in the baseline level of health and the expectation in quality of care.