Global healthcare spending is expected to increase at an annual rate of 5.4 percent between 2017-2022, from $7.7 trillion to $10.1 trillion. In the US alone, healthcare costs skyrocketed to over $3 trillion on healthcare in 2018.
Besides aging populations and increased prevalence of chronic diseases, certain innovations in healthcare are also to blame for these rising expenditures. These solutions are costly because they have mostly been about preserving the status quo. But with the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), all of that might be about to change.
With that in mind, we’ll be taking a close at how the IoT is disrupting the healthcare industry. We’ll begin by discussing how the stage is set for the adoption of the IoT in healthcare, before moving on to its applications and benefits.
Factors Driving the Adoption of the IoT in Healthcare
● The Need to Provide Healthcare in Remote Areas
The provision of healthcare facilities is essential for good health. However, there are places, especially in developing and under-developed countries, that have little to no access to these facilities. Residents of these areas have to undertake long, inconvenient, and expensive trips to their nearest healthcare facility for mere routine checkups.
Taking into account how globally ubiquitous the internet and smartphone usage is, the IoT and Telemedicine offer a more convenient and cost-effective alternative for collecting patient information and managing health in remote communities.
● Increasing Penetration of Wearables and Smart Devices in Healthcare
It’s safe to say that wearables and smart devices have disrupted the healthcare industry in recent years. These devices can collect, send, and even analyze patient data and with their medical applications quickly becoming apparent, their adoption and market share will only continue to soar.
Smartphones have become increasingly sophisticated in the last decade. They now come equipped with dedicated applications as well as sensors that have become more precise with each iteration. Similarly, smartwatches and activity monitors are also available in ‘medical-grade’ varieties. As these technologies become more widespread and cost-effective, they will continue to pave the way for more IoT applications in healthcare.
● The Transition from Physical to Electronic Health Records
Electronic Health Records factor into the IoT as a repository of rich, insightful data gathered from multiple sources, which can be analyzed to facilitate patient care.
In the last decade, the US healthcare industry has undergone a massive digital transformation by shifting to EHRs in efforts to eliminate paper-based clinical practices and leverage data analytics to provide higher quality and safer care for patients. This has consequently bolstered the demand for the IoT in healthcare so that information can be collected and shared over the internet from anywhere in the world.
According to a 2017 study, EHR adoption has been widespread, with about 80.5% of hospitals using at least a basic EHR system. While this does underscore that the response to EHRs has generally been positive, these systems will need to be refined further. As EHRs mature and their usability improves, they will soon have the potential to ramp up further IoT adoption in healthcare.
Applications of the IoT in Healthcare
A Goldman Sachs report on Digital Healthcare predicts massive opportunities for the IoT in healthcare in the following market verticals:
● Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) is a healthcare delivery method that leverages the IoT technologies to monitor patients outside of the conventional clinic/hospital settings. Information between patients and doctors is transmitted electronically via the cloud so that the doctors can evaluate the patient’s condition, essentially, at all times from anywhere around the world using smartphones, wearables, or unique implants.
A typical example of RPM in action involves the monitoring of blood glucose levels in people with diabetes that needs to be kept in check constantly. An IoT-based glucose monitor can remotely send patients’ glucose readings to their physicians, so they’re always in the loop with regards to their patients’ condition.
Telehealth allows patients to seek medical consultation conveniently from the comfort of their homes. This is especially beneficial for patients living in remote areas as they no longer need to wait for an appointment and make tedious, expensive trips to the doctor’s office.
Using Telehealth, doctors can communicate with patients in real-time via computer screens. They can also remotely capture readings from medical devices and use these to diagnose diseases and prescribe medications. Telehealth can be an excellent means of accessing medical counseling on the go as well as a viable alternative for primary care physician visits for those who find it difficult to visit in person.
● Behavior Modification
These are solutions designed to help patients change their habits and adopt healthier lifestyles. They do so by identifying specific health characteristics that may be bad for the patient’s health as well as providing actionable, clinically-validated steps patients can take to address them. Thus, these solutions behave as instruction manuals or life coaches, with disease-prevention being their primary aim.
A possible use case is a platform that aims to prevent diabetes through digital weight loss coaching and smoking cessation.
How the IoT Benefits the Healthcare Industry
● Reduces Cost of Care
By allowing doctors to examine and monitor their patients remotely, IoT solutions can help cut down unnecessary in-person visits and the costs associated with them.
Moreover, continuous monitoring allows physicians to continuously modulate their patient’s care and provides them with real-time information for evidence-based treatment. This also encourages patients to adhere to their prescribed regimen. Hence, reducing costs associated with relapses and hospital readmissions.
Access to data also paints a more accurate picture of the patient’s health for the doctor, keeping down expenses related to unnecessary and often expensive tests.
● Tracks Medical Emergencies
For patients, it’s imperative to receive the right medical care at the right time. Real-time monitoring through the IoT helps ensure that they do.
Wearables can actively monitor and analyze vital signs in real-time and send insightful data to a physician over the internet. As a result, they can keep tabs on a patient’s health, and along with their emergency contacts, be notified immediately in case something goes wrong. Some wearables also let patients trigger alerts manually if they require medical assistance right away.
● Widens the Scope of Medical Data Analysis
It’s hard to derive actionable insights from data when it’s insufficient, from a single source or from isolated sources that have no means of communicating with one another. The IoT changes that by allowing users to acquire data continuously from multiple channels, i.e., wearables, smart devices, specialized sensors, etc.
Not only do these devices generate vast amounts of data, but they are also able to analyze and interpret them instantly. Moreover, IoT also opens doors for data analysis over the cloud so users can obtain quality, data-driven insights from multiple channels without needing any processing power at their end.
● Improves Patient Experience
The IoT provides doctors and caregivers a 360-degree view of their patient’s needs. Constant, non-invasive monitoring ensures doctors have access to their patients’ vital medical statistics and accurate data when they need it the most, allowing them to diagnose and treat patients better.
IoT data also gives way to predictive analytics. By scrutinizing historic and real-time patient data, doctors can be more proactive with their patients’ needs and identify diseases before they progress.
Interconnected devices also make it possible for patient information and alerts to be shared instantly with concerned parties, enabling them to intervene in a timely fashion if the need arises.
● Facilitates Medical Research
Vast amounts of patient data collected using IoT devices can also be used as a basis for future medical research to help us better understand ailments and come up with new and improved methods of treatment.
By making massive datasets readily available, methods backed by the IoT are significantly less time and labor-intensive compared to traditional modes of data collection. Moreover, IoT- collected data tends to be more precise and less susceptible to human error, helping researchers arrive at conclusions that are more in line with reality.
The Bottom Line!
The adoption of the IoT in healthcare has the potential to truly disrupt a system that has traditionally been very reluctant to change. However, like all new technologies, the IoT for healthcare will also need to contend with its set of challenges, and all stakeholders in the system will need to be on the same page for this technology to be effective.
Intagleo Systems has extensive hands-on experience in developing custom IoT solutions for a range of industry verticals. If you need assistance with your IoT development endeavors, get in touch with one of our experts today.