Futurists look toward healthcare with a keen eye when it comes to the uptake of IoT in industries. It has collected a reputation of being traditional, difficult to penetrate, and wildly siloed. At first, it may seem like the least ideal environment for IoT. Dig a little further and—voila—it becomes clear that the healthcare industry has nearly innumerable opportunities for innovation through IoT. So many opportunities exist that there’s a name for the segment of IoT specifically dedicated to health tech: Internet of Medical Things (IoMT.)
As I mentioned in the first post in my healthcare series, the United States’ healthcare industry comprises many different stakeholders, whose reasons for adopting IoMT will be quite different. For example, whereas a health insurer will use biometric data gathered from connected devices like heart rate monitors to underwrite insurance rates, healthcare providers may use IoT when evaluating care plans. This post will focus on the applications of IoMT for the latter.
Before exploring IoT use cases for health providers, I want to clarify the definition of a provider. When people mention their provider, they often mean an individual doctor such as their primary care physician. In reality, both people and organizations (such as a hospital or residential nursing facility) can provide care. Organizations are therefore also considered to be providers.
There are extraordinary IoT solutions out there targeting the providers sector of the healthcare industry. I would venture to say organizations have the broadest impact on the providers sector. They affect everything from individual care to national and even global health system operations. Let’s dive into three potential IoMT applications that could improve healthcare from the ground-up:
- Remote patient care
- Hospital operations
- Interoperability/data management.
1. Remote Patient Care
Many of us take for granted the sense of security and convenience that living near a major hospital provides—myself included. In the US, over 16% of mainland residents live over 30 miles from the nearest hospital. In moments of emergency, you can imagine why that becomes an issue. It would take an ambulance racing at top speeds far too long to ferry a dying patient to a hospital 30 miles away. But what about those struggling with chronic conditions? To keep chronic conditions under control, it usually involves coming in to see a provider frequently, which already can be time-consuming without the long commute. Some of these citizens may not have the means to get to the hospital as frequently as required. Even those patients with chronic conditions who live near care facilities may not be able to take time off from work or secure reliable transportation.
IoMT comes into play in a major way when we look at remote patient care. With IoT connectivity, doctors can help patients purchase and set up remote equipment to measure biometrics, provide care, and talk face-to-face over the internet (also known as telemedicine). Doctors then are able to receive the data they need to adequately modify care plans without requiring a patient to walk into the office as well as have more frequent communication and therefore a better understanding of a patient’s day-to-day health status.
IoMT not only allows for better continuous care but also boosts patient satisfaction and engagement. Patients that spend more face time with their providers tend to have better relationships and therefore better patient satisfaction—a critical component of healthcare with more and more models shifting to value-based reimbursement from health payers.
2. Hospital Operations
Hospitals, not unlike the wider healthcare industry, have millions of moving parts. Looking at people alone, on any given day there may be patients (both in-patients and out-patients), administrative staff, doctors, nurses, physician assistants, medical students, pharmacists, researchers, janitorial staff, visitors, and more. Just with the context of that list alone, one can deduce then how much operations comes into play when looking at the daily functionings at a hospital.
There are many avenues in which IoT can be introduced and ramped up to optimize a hospital’s daily functions and cut unnecessary costs. One of these avenues is through tracking medical assets within a facility. Every year, millions of dollars bleed from hospitals from lost or stolen equipment. By attaching sensors (e.g., RFID or Bluetooth) to equipment, hospital staff can track the exact locations at any point in time, allowing for better oversight. This can solve the problem of lost equipment, reduce theft, and even track overall use of equipment. The life of medical equipment varies greatly based on
Moreover, hospitals can use similar sensor technology to track throughput of patients. Currently, the process around tracking throughput is based on written self-reporting from staff and timestamps from events such as intake or discharge from the Emergency Department. With IoT added to this process, unobtrusive sensors can be placed in patient wristbands and staff badges better to track how quickly patients flow through different areas of the hospital (such as pre-op rooms to the operating room) or how efficiently staff attends to a given patient. This can remove backup from current bottlenecks in flow at the hospital, including but not limited to Emergency Department wait times, intake, discharge, and shift changes.
3. Interoperability/Data Management
Health systems, independent hospitals, and smaller-scale practices all amass incredible amounts of data. Not only are they taking in data points around patients, such as blood oxygen level or weight; they’re also taking in operational data points like assigned attendants, throughput, patient satisfaction, and more. It’s a staggering amount of data, but data, when not properly analyzed, is just data: a bunch of numbers and words that ultimately mean nothing without derived insights.
IoT has already made a tremendous impact in terms of data management and the interoperability of these data (think electronic health records), but it has tons of space to grow. Much of the data providers receive is unstructured whether it’s from connected devices in and out of the center of care, random text entries, old paper records, or a slew of other sources. This needs to be integrated with the relatively structured data from electronic health records (EHRs.)
IoT is making this possible—even easy—through AI, machine learning, and natural language processing. By relying on IoT-enabled technologies, providers will no longer deal with unusable, unstructured data but rather well-organized and insightful data systems. The world of well-managed data in hospitals and health systems opens up with the adoption of forward-thinking technology. Doctors can better tailor care plans to patients’ specific needs based on historical data of like patients and avoid oversight of potential complications such as contraindications.
Even before the adoption of more advanced IoT solutions for data management, IoT improves existing systems for providers. For example, biometric devices and sensors are often system-agnostic and can connect through APIs to multitudes of EHR systems. If a patient has doctors in multiple health systems, their disparate EHRs (and therefore doctors and care plans) can be updated accordingly.
Future IoT Applications for Healthcare Providers
Providers have the opportunity to enhance care output and quality through thoughtfully-adopted IoMT technologies. As hospitals, practices, and health systems begin to consolidate, it will be a fight to stay relevant and profitable. In the age of healthcare consumerism and digital access, this means leveraging new technologies to improve care for patients and optimize daily operations.
The third and final part of my series will focus on IoT applications for healthcare consumers (just like you and me!)