The technology over the past few years has opened many new avenues and possibilities that have radically transformed the healthcare industry’s outlook. Today the tech-based healthcare industry is providing many unique solutions to the patient’s care which are more efficient and effective than the traditional services. The method of services delivery and design has transformed to the extent that people can access healthcare services from thousands of miles away with just a smartphone.

Telemedicine, Artificial intelligence, Virtual reality, Augmented reality, Drones, Telehealthcare, 3D-printing, robotics, or nanotechnology are some of the emerging and existing technologies, which are expected to reshape the healthcare industry. Taking it to the next level, Internet Of Things (IoT) is the next big entity in the healthcare system, set to completely revolutionize the healthcare delivery and design system in the coming future years.

The Internet of Things is the interconnection of available medical devices, software applications and other resources to collect and exchange data to provide a reliable, efficient, and smart healthcare service to the patients. IoT relies on the data collected from devices and provides valuable insights that help in providing the best possible healthcare solution to the patient. The overall focus of IoT is to prevent disease rather than curing it. 

How does an IoT based system work? 

The internet is the central pillar of digital healthcare services. The IoT platform requires uninterrupted connectivity. Sensors/Devices are the primary data collection point in IoT. Sensors can be any appliance (like monitors, detectors, camera systems) or wearable devices that capture data from the patient’s body and the surrounding environment. The data collected from these devices is in an analog form, which is converted into digital form (in order to perform mathematical manipulation of the data). The collected data from these devices is further transferred to the cloud storage or data centre with the help of WiFi, WAN, Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC) or any other communication method. Cloud store or data centre aggregate data from all the devices which are in the network system. The data is processed with the help of Advanced Analytics. Upon analysis, valuable information or insights is delivered to the end-user. Now the user can easily access the information through various user interfaces for their personal, commercial or industrial decision making as required.

What are the benefits of using IoT devices? 

  • Real-Time Monitoring/ Tracking And Alert System

The IoT can provide real-time data of patient’s vital stats such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, body weight, oxygen saturation level, blood sugar, kidney functioning and many others. If there is any sudden change in these parameters, the physician will automatically get alert and can take necessary decisions. Since the data is collected for a long period of time, the doctor can easily evaluate the current and past medical conditions.

  • New Insight/Data For Research

The data collected in the IoT can support medical research. Since the data is collected over a very long period, it can bring new insight and information which will help understand the functioning of the body and also ensures better medical treatments and productivity. One simple example is that with the help of IoT physicians can track the impact of drug uptake on disease progression on a real-time basis. 

  • Services In Remote Area

IoT can be helpful in providing healthcare service to people in remote areas or at home. Patients do not need to visit hospitals to get the basic status of their health conditions. Even in remote areas people can access quality services from urban speciality hospitals.

  • Medical Information Distribution

With the help of IoT platforms doctors can share medical information with their patients, healthcare facilitates (laboratory) and or with other healthcare professionals. IoT, along with Telehealth enables the recording, sharing and analysis of health data on a real-time basis which results in improved patient care and better healthcare outcome.

  • Improved Drug Usage

The other benefit of IoT is in understanding the drug usage on the human body. IoT can be helpful in understanding the impact of drugs on the functioning of a particular organ or body part. Drugs that work better for a patient may not be equally impactful on another individual. So IoT can assist in the development of customized medication for patients.

  • Emergency Care

The main priority of hospitals in emergency care is to provide healthcare services in a minimum amount of time. With the help of IoT emergency services, such availability of doctor/specialist, beds, essential drugs and medical equipment can be streamlined. Similarly, if some patients are brought in emergency care, the doctor can track the patient’s past medical record from the database and can start treatment without losing any time.

IoT and its applications in healthcare 

  • CVD & Heart Related Diseases

The smartphone and sensor-based wearable devices are in rapid use in today’s time, and these devices allow the user to monitor heart activity continuously. This helps in analysis and diagnosis of health conditions like cardiovascular disease. In upcoming years with the more advanced feature, the IoT will better equip physicians and patients to manage the heart activity by reducing the risk of disease at initial stages.

  • Medical Equipment Tracking 

IoT can also be utilised in equipment tracking and management. The hospital inventory is equipped with tagged sensors. These sensors will help in getting real-time location, requirement, and monitoring of the inventory. Wheelchairs, surgical tools, defibrillators, plastic vials, nebulisers, medication boxes, oxygen pumps and many other devices can be efficiently utilized with IoT.

  • Glucose Monitoring Systems

The IoT has revolutionized various sectors; in the coming years, it is expected to bring drastic changes in the monitoring of chronic disease as well. Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing diseases worldwide and is expected to increase at an alarming rate in the coming years. Since the diabetes patients require continuous monitoring, with the help of IoT, the doctors can access the patient’s real-time medical data without any hospital visit and can also prescribe the medication (treatment plan).

  • Healthcare Charting

Each patient has a different medical history, such as demographics, vital signs, allergies, medications, problems, immunization, and so on. The doctors need to analyse all the factors. With the IoT in place, the medical charting will save a lot of time and effort. IoT will make all the vital stats available at voice command.

Connected Contact Lenses, Ingestible Sensors, Cancer Treatment, are some of the other applications of IoT In Healthcare. 

What are the driving forces behind the IoT device market in healthcare?

  • Increasing chronic diseases

The sedentary lifestyle over the past few years has given rise to many chronic diseases such as blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, depression, diabetes, obesity and anxiety. In the coming years also, these diseases are likely to rise even further. These diseases require regular diagnosis and monitoring. IoT based remote monitoring systems along with big data are helpful in managing these diseases.

  • Research and Development in the IT field.

Technological improvements (in Cloud system, 5G technology, and Network Interconnection) is expected to enhance the user experience in the coming years. Several tech devices are in the pipeline with advanced features and applications such as wristbands, watches, patches, socks, shoes, contact lenses, and many others.

  • Demand for wearable devices

The demand for wearable devices among working professionals and youth who like to monitor their day to day activities, and vital body signs, are the key drivers for IoT in the healthcare market.

  • Growing Aging population

Growing Old-age population in the coming years is likely to rely more on IoT based products as these products help measure even the minute variations in body vitals.

Moreover, the opportunities in the market has led to an increase in the number of collaboration and Alliances between Tech companies and healthcare providers, IoT based insurance policies are also expected to have a positive impact on the growth of the IoT in the healthcare market.

There are challenges that need to be overcome

Although the IoT has managed to bring a revolutionary change in the healthcare domain and in the ways the healthcare services are delivered; however here remains challenges and snags that slow down the growth of the IoT devices market and dwindles the trust of end-users. 

  • Data Security & Privacy

Data Security & Privacy is one of the challenges that Internet-based services regularly face. For the healthcare sector, the risk is quite high, as it contains sensitive data relative to persons’ health. The IoT based devices capture data in real-time, which makes them more prone to thefts.

  • Data Accuracy 

In IoT, data is collected from a wide range of devices. The aggregation of the data collected is difficult as different devices and sensors use different communication protocols & standards. The amount of data collected is so vast that sometimes it may affect the decision-making process also.

  • Implementation Cost

The implementation, maintenance and monitoring cost of IoT can be a big challenge. The operating cost at the initial stage is quite expensive. In the later stage also if the cost didn’t come down the services are likely to remain out of reach for a vast majority of the population, ultimately it will be a waste of time, money and workforce for the company.

  • Interconnection Of Multiple Devices

To provide the IoT enables services supporting infrastructure needs to be in place. Since the data is coming from different devices, locations and domains, the interconnection of devices becomes a severe challenge. Most of the devices which are in operation right now have different communication protocols & standards. The existing equipment and system are needed to be replaced with IOT enabled devices.

Apart from the challenge mentioned, issues such as  24X7 connectivity, monitoring, and data storage are other barriers slowing down the growth. 

There is no denying that the state of IoT devices in the healthcare domain is in infancy and there remains a lot to cover, and challenges that need to be addressed, the present trend and a transition of users towards wearables and telehealth demonstrate a promising future for the IoT device market. 

A large number of people are getting connected with networked devices each day. These new consumers are likely to adopt IoT and related tech-based products & services in the near future. The IoT has a promising future since the technology is in the initial phase right now, many big players whether investors or manufacturers to fulfil the user’s and organisation needs are working in the development of IoT based healthcare services. Some of the key players in the IoT (healthcare field) include Stanley Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., GE Healthcare, Resideo Technologies, Cisco Systems, Medtronic, Philips N.V, and many others.

Way Ahead

Apart from delivering quality healthcare services, the IoT is anticipated to bring social, technological and economic changes. Today, a vast majority of patients are relying on traditional healthcare services. Still, with the advancement in technology in terms of network interconnection (data transmission), sensors/devices, cloud technologies, user interface and data processing, the scenario is likely to shift in favour of digital healthcare. 

Similarly, in terms of societal changes, the IoT will decrease the doctor-patient physical interaction. However, at the same time, it will empower the patients with higher control over data and diagnostic devices. Patients can continuously monitor their vital signs at their own or with minimal help from healthcare professionals.

As of now, the contribution of IoT is negligible in the economy of developing countries. In advanced countries also the contribution is not that significant, but the IoT adoption pace in these countries is relatively higher as compared to developing countries. In future, the demand for IoT based healthcare services will make a direct positive impact on manufacturing businesses (for IoT based devices), GDP growth, government policies and in the job market of respective countries. Overall IoT is poised to transform the healthcare industry to an unbelievable extent.