The internet of things (IoT) is certainly not a new concept in the world of technology and engineering. With the improvement in connectivity, new use cases notably IoT healthcare applications have emerged. The idea of connected physical devices or “things” has existed for a long time with software-enabled sensing devices communicating data among others or even with a central entity that handles the processing and analysis of the incoming data.
Wireless sensor networks and mobile ad-hoc networks are all concepts that have existed for a long time and largely contributed to shaping up IoT as it is widely known today. The hype surrounding the advent of 5G as a game-changer in the telecommunications industry and as an enabler for new business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) opportunities has notably contributed to the increased investments and adoption of IoT solutions.
The prospective Wi-Fi 7 standard will complement the IoT landscape with its expected ultra-high throughput and low latencies. According to Statista, the number of connected IoT devices will increase from around 11 billion in 2022 to 25 billion in 2030, thus requiring a reliable holistic connectivity. The IoT market is expected to exceed one trillion USD in the same year.
The healthcare industry is among the highly affected verticals by the development of IoT solutions to the extent that a new area denoted as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has emerged. Compared to regular IoT solutions, IoMT ones cater for specific requirements in healthcare provision such as security and utmost reliability.
Implementation of IoT in Healthcare
Numerous use cases justify the implementation of IoT in healthcare. The introduction of such solutions into the healthcare industry is actually disruptive on different fronts:
- Patient monitoring: The advances in sensor technology has allowed the development of efficient patient monitoring applications. Sensors have reached a level of notably high accuracy, precision, and sensitivity allowing the collection clinical-grade data from patients. When incorporated within intelligent devices capable of processing and transmitting data, they provide an ecosystem to collect and interpret patient’s data thus improving the monitoring process as a whole. Further innovations in biocompatible stretchable and wearable electronics has widened the spectrum of applications to include sensing devices in contact with human skin and sensitive organs such as eyes. On another side, ingestible sensors, mainly camera sensors have been developed to monitor internal organs such as the stomach. Therefore, throughout these prominent innovations, patients, family members and caregivers have continuous access to data to allow ubiquitous real-time monitoring and assessment of the patient’s health status.
- Affordable service provision: The incorporation of IoT solutions democratizes the healthcare industry by allowing premium healthcare to everyone through low-cost solutions. Costly doctor visits can indeed be replaced by remote monitoring and automated decision making where data is collected and analyzed on the cloud. The process alleviates the caregiver’s burden of looking at a significantly large amount of information to take life-changing decisions.
- Improved operations and logistics: Besides refined service provision, hospitals can rely on IoT solutions to perfect the management of the different operations including tracking of medical equipment, improved inventory control, automated environmental and safety checks within the premises, efficient real time analysis of staff responses to various medical conditions and an optimization in the allocation of medical resources.
- Improved insurance underwriting and claims processes: The incorporation of IoT in operation of insurance companies can help in tailoring insurance policies to patients and reducing fraudulent claims. The development of such solutions requires access to the client’s data, or to a lesser extent, to periodical reports that build on the continuously collected data. By having access to this valuable information, insurance companies can adjust premiums and pricing to different patients, and identity fraudulent claims thus reducing costs. Insurers can provide additional services to keep track of their patients’ health indicators to decrease the risks of adverse events, also cutting down on expenses.
What Are the Challenges of IoT in Healthcare?
Cybersecurity has recently been an active area mainly due the constantly increasing number of security attacks and breaches. Hackers have been innovative discovering loopholes and exploiting vulnerabilities for malicious endeavors. As IoT systems rely on continuous connection availability and reliability, security is definitely a prohibitive factor. This however does not bode well for healthcare applications as related collected data involves sensitive and confidential information. Data integrity and security is therefore the main challenge towards large scale adoption of “internet of healthcare things” solutions.
Another challenge in developing IoT solutions relate to the difficulty in integrating data from different sources. The channeling of the data from sensors to the decision making device is normally done using different communication standards. At the sink, the processing of the received information becomes harder as data cleaning and transformation needs to be done before viable learning can be done. The difficulty in integrating data from sources significantly affects the scalability of IoT solutions in healthcare.
A third challenge relates to the availability and reliability of the connections within the IoT network. As healthcare applications require quasi-real time collection of data, any disruption in the connection can prove costly in terms of the data accuracy and errors in the decision making process. For instance, smart insulin pumps require accurate periodical glucose measurements. Any erroneous interpretation of glucose levels can lead to wrongly administrated quantities of insulin.
What is the future of IoT in Healthcare?
Addressing the challenges related the integration of IoT solutions in Healthcare holds the key that determines the future of such projects, especially that companies and manufacturers investing in the field need some guarantees to continue with their investments.
As security is the top priority in such applications, advanced security enforcing systems have been investigated. Among others is the use of blockchain technology to improve security in the data management and operations, in particular data integrity, access control and privacy preservation. The distributed ledger can be used to validate data exchanges between IoT devices, thus reducing potential attacks.
The harmonization of communication standards for healthcare IoT applications is also essential in delivering efficient solutions.
As technology is evolving and digital transformation is at full throttle, new IoT use cases will certainly be developed in the healthcare sectors. Digital twins seem to build on IoT measurements to construct a virtual model of the patient, and customize treatment and monitoring opportunities.
Cost reduction and preventive services will also be at the center of future use cases. The current coronavirus pandemic has taught us how fragile the healthcare system is. Through proper data collection and interpretation, higher resilience towards future challenges can be achieved.
When advancements in electronics, communications, computing, and storage come together, the internet of things becomes a paradigm that could well disrupt different industries, notably healthcare. The benefits of developing healthcare IoT solutions are numerous ranging from improved service provision, to optimized operations and asset management. As the medical environment is heavily regulated, conceived solutions need to mature enough by addressing several challenges, notably security related issues. The future certainly holds a lot of positive prospects for IoT in Healthcare. It is up to companies and manufacturers to make the best out it!
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