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Future of IoT in healthcare brought into sharp focus

Advancements in AI and the effects of the global pandemic are some of the main drivers that will encourage healthcare organizations to adopt medical IoT.

With faster broadband speeds, better analytics, technological improvements and more competitors in the space, the future of IoT has a greater opportunity to make a positive impact on the healthcare industry.

In the last few years, numerous vendors have entered the IoT market space. The 2020 consumer electronic event CES saw a record number of companies in the market with healthcare IoT products, such as care robots, intelligent home camera systems for tracking seniors at home and, of course, smart speakers. By 2025, experts predicted that the wearable technology market will reach $74.03 billion. This is a significant increase from its valuation in 2019 of $27.91 billion. Wearable technology is especially important to healthcare because it will introduce more devices to the market that patients can use to monitor activities, vital signs and several healthcare data points.

Why the internet of medical things is the future of healthcare

Beyond the growing market for healthcare IoT, the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred conversations around the future of IoT in healthcare and how it can safely connect healthcare professionals and patients. Hospitals and clinics were forced to quickly evaluate telehealth to continue to treat some patients without increasing their risk of infection by bringing them into care facilities. Hospitals are also under constant pressure to identify ways to reduce costs. Wearable devices that enable some patients to be treated and monitored at home could reduce the number of resources needed at the healthcare facility.

Another technology contributing to the future of IoT in healthcare is the introduction of 5G networks, which provide 100 times faster speeds for connectivity than traditional 4G networks. IoT devices rely on connectivity to communicate and transfer data between patient and care provider. Faster cellular data transfer provides IoT flexibility in terms of the volumes of data it can exchange and at a much faster rate. With these improvements, new healthcare IoT uses include devices that assist patients with their medication adherence at home; sleep monitoring devices that can track heart rate, oxygen levels and movements for high-risk patients; remote temperature monitoring tools; and continuous glucose monitoring sensors that connect to mobile devices and alert patients and clinicians to changing blood sugar levels.

This new pandemic experience combined with the progress and recent advancements will increase the adoption of IoT and encourage those who might have otherwise ignored the technology in the past to get on board.

IoT uses in healthcare

What would future applications of healthcare IoT look like?

With the increasing use of cloud services combined with AI, IoT devices are getting smarter and are going beyond just transmitting data from patient to healthcare professional. For example, IoT devices that use cloud services for data analysis are the smart glucose monitoring system and smart insulin pen. These two technologies not only continuously capture information regarding glucose levels, but also upload the data to a cloud service or a mobile app to be analyzed. Based on the outcome of the analysis, the insulin pump can then inject the patient with the appropriate dosage of insulin. Another example is the use of smart nanny cameras for monitoring elderly patients. These smart cameras recognize when routines deviate from the norm, such as if an elderly person goes into the bathroom but does not come out after a short period of time. Another application of the camera is for fall detection, which would then alert emergency services or caregivers.

AI will continue to convert many traditional internet of medical things devices from data collection points to smarter devices that can facilitate meaningful interactions with the data.

Other uses of IoT that will begin to trend in the future include the use of bots or virtual agents to interact with patients. By combining sensor information collected by different IoT devices and sensors and using voice-enabled speakers, seniors can have access to a personal virtual assistant to remind them to take their medication, survey them for any relevant information that relates to their health or pain levels, and react to any collected information from their devices, such as glucose levels, fall detection or oxygen levels.

Beyond wearables and patient-specific interactions, healthcare organizations will adopt IoT in facilities  for inventory management and equipment tracing. This technology -- generally referred to as real-time location systems -- continues to improve because of advancements in wireless technology and the size of the sensors. By tracking the movement of equipment and general use, hospitals will get better visibility of potential equipment shortages and who may have come in contact with the equipment. This is especially important for preventing the spread of infection, such as how the COVID-19 pandemic forced hospitals to track equipment and staff who came in contact with infected patients.

History of IoT in healthcare

In the past decade, internet-connected devices have been introduced to patients in various forms. Whether data comes from fetal monitors, electrocardiogram machines, temperature monitors or blood glucose monitors, tracking health information is vital for some patients, though many of these measures require follow-up interaction with a healthcare professional. The use of IoT devices has been instrumental in delivering more valuable, real-time data to doctors and lessening the need for direct patient-physician interaction. Early on, the purpose of many of these devices was to transmit data to provide visibility of a patient's condition through reported vitals. For many physicians, the data was not sufficient and needed analysis to provide greater value. That's the direction healthcare IoT has been moving toward.

AI will continue to convert many traditional internet of medical things devices from data collection points to smarter devices that can facilitate meaningful interactions with the data. With the increased rollout of wearables, IoT technology will continue to see significant growth in healthcare.

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