How Internet of Things (IoT) Technology is Used in Healthcare
In some ways, the healthcare industry has been enjoying the benefits of Internet of Things technology since before people had ever heard the term IoT. The first large-scale hospital deployment of medical devices for remote patient monitoring occurred in 2008 in the UK. Called the Whole System Demonstrator Programme, over 6,000 patients were equipped with telehealth devices to evaluate the effectiveness of the IoT in healthcare.
Needless to say, the program was a great success. The study found that the technology led to a 45% reduction in death rate, 20% reduction in emergency room admissions, and more gains across elective admissions, hospital stay lengths, and other metrics. As a result, the UK plans to expand the program to provide IoT healthcare devices to 3 million patients across the nation.
The research in the UK is just one of the exciting things happening in the healthcare sector as a result of the Internet of Things. The technology has many applications in the pursuit of keeping us safe and healthy, and healthcare is an industry that loves to explore and adopt new innovations. Here are some of our favorite things happening in the space.
Smartphone Compatible Hearing Aids
Far from the clunky and unattractive devices of years past, modern hearing aids are nearly invisible and loaded for bear with value-added features. Bluetooth connectivity is a near-standard feature these days, allowing hearing aids to function as hands free headsets. In many ways, these hearing aids are superior to traditional Bluetooth earpieces, as they are nearly invisible and often boast a superior sound quality.
The latest hearing aids go beyond Bluetooth connectivity and allow users to adjust sound profiles and other variables using a smartphone app. Devices like the Halo Wireless Hearing Aids place healthcare in the hands of the patient, giving them full control over the microphone profile and ambient noise reduction so they can fine tune their hearing on the fly.
The Halo is even location services enabled, meaning it can seamlessly switch between listening profiles based on the user’s location. The medical devices can actually learn when the user is at home, at work, in a movie theater, or elsewhere, and adjust their performance to match. They are also much, much smaller than older style hearing aids, and can be nearly invisible when worn.
Hospital Applications for the Internet of Things
Hospitals and other inpatient healthcare facilities are finding innumerable uses for IoT techniques. Microsoft and other tech giants are releasing case studies and client stories by the truckload. There is practically a frenzy to develop as many IoT applications for hospitals as possible, and it is the patients and doctors who are reaping the benefits. Here are just a few of the great ways the Internet of Things is making hospitals around the world more effective.
- Connected Fire Extinguishers – Send an alert to facilities maintenance teams when it is time for testing or replacement
- Connected Climate Control – Automatically and seamlessly adjust temperature in rooms when they are occupied. This increases patient safety and comfort by eliminating the possibility of user error (for example, a nurse forgets to turn on the AC in a room in summer), reduces the hospital’s ecological footprint, and lowers their power bill.
- Asset Management – Pharmacy supplies like syringes and bandages, not to mention drugs themselves, can be efficiently and accurately managed using IoT-based inventory control systems.
- RFID Hospital Wristbands – Updating the old-fashioned hospital wristband to include an RFID chip means they can store much, much more information than plain text. With a connected wristband, a patient’s bedside chart could automatically update when they are moved into the room.
All of these medical devices and more go to reduce cost and error, thereby increasing safety and efficiency. Healthcare is a high stakes world, and it’s no wonder that hospitals love to leverage technology whenever possible. Nurses and doctors are often overworked and under rested, and anything that tech can do to make their lives easier can only benefit the patients.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Despite the advances in hospitals, it is still often in patients’ best interests to keep them from a hospital stay. If nothing else, home care is more comfortable, more convenient, and ultimately happier. Hospital resources are overextended as is, and outpatient services using advanced home medical devices help make the whole system work better.
Remote patient monitoring devices have come a long way in recent years, thanks in large part to the advent of IoT. The ability to inexpensively and reliably place advanced electronics in the hands of patients means that patients can do more on their own, without the need for extraneous visits to the doctor’s office to adjust settings or verify functionality.
Here are some of the ways remote patient monitoring is making a difference.
- Medical Alert – Products like LifeAlert are still around, and they have become far more advanced in recent years. Today’s PERS (Personal Emergency Response Systems) devices include features like location tracking and fall detection. They can come implanted in wristbands, pendants, or even walking sticks and canes. The location tracking features are especially helpful in cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s, where patients may find themselves lost away from home and in need of assistance.
- Diabetes Management – The management of this increasingly common condition involves careful monitoring of weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. In the past, patients would be required to make regular visits to a doctor to have these vitals checked and compared against past levels. With the advent of remote patient monitoring medical devices, doctors can keep a constant, accurate picture of a patient’s levels without ever seeing them in the flesh.
- Infertility Treatment – For those who have difficulty conceiving children, treatment often involves frequent doctor visits to make small adjustments to dosages and other treatment levels. These doctor visits are inconvenient, but until now, necessary. With remote patient monitoring, fertility clinics can monitor patients’ hormonal levels and other measurements remotely. Any necessary adjustments are communicated to the patient, or sometimes even adjusted remotely.
The healthcare industry is always an innovator in new tech. The industry is enormously important and enormously profitable, and everyone can feel good about working to make a difference in the lives of the sick. The Internet of Things is just the latest in a long line of technological advancements to benefit the industry, but it has been one of the most impactful.