Connected devices in healthcare:
10 ways IoT enables better treatment and faster rehabilitation
In the last 20 years, our whole world has become digitized. Healthcare has been one of the sectors to benefit hugely from this technology, with new devices for measuring vitals like blood sugar, oxygen levels, and heart rate, enabling less invasive surgeries, and so much more.
Hospitals, doctors, clinicians, and all types of specialists are now able to access patient records easily, without relying on paperwork, utilizing more effective treatment approaches and speeding up recovery — all thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT).
Using our established expertise in IoT engineering, and hands-on experience in working on healthcare-related projects, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on all the questions you might have about IoT applications in healthcare.
The role of IoT in healthcare and its benefits
In healthcare, IoT-enabled devices are used to improve patient and doctor communication, data exchange and monitoring, and diagnosis. For people with long-term health conditions, this technology has unlimited potential to completely change treatments for the better, and drastically accelerate rehabilitation after illness or injury.
IoT in healthcare enables more frequent and accurate forms of measurement. For example, patients today can be prescribed a heart rate monitor, and access the data it collects via an app on their smartphones. This data can then be transmitted straight to the doctor’s device for review, providing a bigger picture of the treatment and its impact without ever having to physically see the patient. People can carry on with their daily lives, knowing that their doctor is monitoring their health and getting a much more accurate view of their condition and response to treatment.
By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and big data, medical IoT-powered applications are able to correlate patterns in the information collected, identifying potential issues in patients much faster than traditional methods of monitoring. This huge mass of data for monitoring and analysis not only helps improve treatment but also contributes to research, as doctors and research scientists have access to a vast wealth of data that allows them to conduct studies more quickly, helping medical care to advance.
Better insights into patient health and lifestyle
For elderly patients who live alone and require constant supervision and care, IoT can be invaluable and even life-saving. Constant monitoring can allow healthcare professionals to be aware of any problems or changes — often before the patients are even aware themselves.
This holistic approach to healthcare means more effective treatments, smarter resource allocation, more affordable and accessible care and quicker recovery. Being able to correlate all kinds of insights into a patient’s routine means that a specialist is able to save precious time by evaluating the patient’s condition and assign treatment earlier. Doctors can collaborate remotely to create a custom-tailored plan for a patient that better suits their lifestyle, by taking into account all data insights collected using wearables.
Check out our case study on how we reduced parking time by up to 70% using IoT.
How IoT devices are used in healthcare
The most widespread IoT-connected devices used for medical purposes are undoubtedly wearables — from fitness bracelets to clinical-grade monitors for tracking vitals in real time and specific detail. This could be a heart rate monitor worn on the chest, a glucose sensor that sticks to the stomach, an asthma monitor that vibrates to warn of an impending attack or low oxygen levels, and blood pressure cuffs that fit snugly to the skin and take regular measurements independently. These sensors can also be specifically calibrated to an individual patient’s body mass, blood pressure, and physical activity.
For patients who need to keep an eye on the progress of their treatment, there are apps that display their current condition, allowing both patients and doctors to make data-driven decisions. Helping patients feel involved in their healthcare is a great way of encouraging them to be more attentive to their conditions, resulting in accurate emergency response and less invasive care.
Healthcare IoT devices are also an invaluable option when inpatient care is physically or otherwise unavailable — in regions with low population density and a lack of medical institutions, a patient can be equipped with their device and sent home. The patient doesn’t have to worry about downloading the data or inputting the figures incorrectly, since the data is delivered directly to the assigned doctor or healthcare team, ensuring total accuracy and a stress-free experience for the patient. Not only does this free up hospital beds for those who need them, but it also enables patients to stay at home in a familiar, comfortable setting to manage their recovery, saving time and resources.
Pavel Kazlou is IT mentor, speaker, and Forte Group’s own Solution Architect with 17 years of experience in leading roles, i, answered a few questions on the topic, and shared a few invaluable insights after participating in IoT-driven healthtech projects in particular.
What are the latest trends for IoT in healthcare?
Currently, despite rapid growth, the mental health market in the US remains severely understaffed and struggles to meet ever-rising demand. Telemedicine platforms and AI-powered mobile apps that offer easy primary screenings help people to understand the severity of their condition, easing the burden on mental health professionals.
IoT is a great fit for automating various monitoring and observational activities like elderly care. For the majority of their working hours, caregivers are focused on just one person, ready to provide help on demand. With remote care capabilities, a single caregiver can be there for multiple patients, sending help in case of an emergency or a request.
The hottest trend is so-called “fog computing” or “edge computing.” This is when smart devices generate, collect, and analyze data on-premises rather than sending it to the cloud for the same procedures. Why? This helps reduce latency — and save lives by predicting cardiac arrests, seizures, and other life-threatening situations.
Top 10 applications of IoT in healthcare
So what are some practical applications of IoT in healthcare? Below we’ve listed the top ten ways IoT can be used to streamline healthcare practices.
Blood pressure measurement
IoT-powered wearables can monitor heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and how high or low a patient’s blood pressure is throughout the day. Coupled with AI and big data capabilities, this tech can help doctors correctly assemble the clinical picture of blood pressure and heart disorders using historical data.
Glucose level measurement and diabetes condition control
With type 2 diabetes on the rise, helping diabetic patients monitor glucose levels round the clock is essential. Traditionally done through finger-prick blood samples, this usually laborious procedure can now be completed through the use of wearable glucose monitoring patches. This is much less invasive and benefits people who may have difficulty with finger-prick blood tests or struggle with low blood pressure. It also allows for more accurate monitoring throughout the day, so patients can carry on their daily lives uninterrupted. In case of an emergency, the monitor can send notifications to both the wearer and their doctor.
Oxygen saturation and lung function monitoring
For patients with chronic lung conditions, such as asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis, and lung cancer, there are spirometers that they can blow into, and the data recorded from their breath can be used to calculate their lung function and capacity. This gives an indication of how patients are responding to treatment and whether they require any additional support, such as antibiotics, oxygen, or inhalers. These devices can not only collect data via a digital read-out, but can also be linked to apps on smart devices for long-term monitoring and analysis.
Stomach bacteria monitoring
In one of the newer advances in healthcare IoT, research scientists have started to develop tiny ingestible devices that help measure the effectiveness of medication taken and levels of enzymes in the digestive system. When they interact with stomach acid or certain enzymes, they are activated and can transmit data signals to a linked device. While not fully rolled out yet, the application of these devices could potentially result in a reduction in invasive procedures such as endoscopies and colonoscopies for patients with gastrointestinal issues, and provide doctors with a better view of what happens in the stomachs of patients and how best to treat their conditions.
Fertility and conception monitoring
Many women are familiar with apps that track their periods and ovulation cycles, but there are a range of fertility monitoring devices that can help improve the chances of conceiving. Monitors measure body temperature, that correlates with ovulation, and provide an accurate window of when conception would be more likely. Throughout pregnancy, women who are at risk of issues such as gestational diabetes can also benefit from IoT devices to monitor their vitals and those of their baby.
Weight loss management
The weight loss industry has caught onto the IoT market, and the range of apps and devices available to help on a weight management journey is astounding. Often, keeping a diary of food and drink consumed, as well as how much exercise is done, can be a good motivator for patients continuing towards better health. These tools also offer insights to keep patients accountable when recording diet and exercise. Collected from wearables and compiled into charts in fitness apps, this data can be invaluable to nutritionists and researchers.
Mental health treatment
IoT successfully enables the monitoring of mood changes and various triggers and symptoms throughout the day, enabling patients to alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, as well as recognize signs of acute states such as panic attacks. There are apps with functions such as meditation and mindfulness, and some even have live counseling options with therapists to help those who struggle at the start of their journies to better mental wellbeing.
Sleep quality monitoring
Lack of proper sleep can be a contributing factor in poor mental health, weight loss or gain, and various heart disorders. IoT systems track and analyze the patient’s sleep patterns and stages and monitor their biological clocks. Patients suffering from conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea can greatly benefit from IoT applications that evaluate the quality of their sleep and identify optimal sleeping environments.
AI-powered IoT systems can help by tracking early signs of cancer — like suspiciously dense tissue in internal organs — if patients have a family history or genetic predisposition to cancers. IoT is also useful for monitoring cancer in remission, helping catch any re-emergence of cancer quickly.
Parkinson’s Disease treatment
Assessment, diagnostics and treatment of chronic neurological disorders is now possible with the help of artificial chips that help to collect and transmit patients’ data, like foot pressure and tremor intensity, and keep a diary of any symptoms they experience that may be early indicators of the disease.
Interested in IoT tech application outside healthcare? Read how we build an innovative, open-source SDK platform for IoT software developers.
How has COVID-19 changed the demand for IoT in the healthcare market?
The pandemic has predictably spiked the demand for telemedicine apps and remote examinations. For example, clinical-grade ultrasound equipment used for long-term rent or on a one-time basis in people’s homes. The goal here is to reduce the workload and prevent overcrowding at hospitals, to comply with pandemic safety guidelines. While this kind of service is still relatively expensive for mass use, there are startups that are gaining lots of attention and investments.
Frequently asked questions about IoT
Is my data protected when using IoT devices?
As with all medical records, any healthcare data collected by IoT medical devices should be encrypted and stored on secure servers. Developers of IoT healthcare devices and apps are responsible for the sensitive nature of the data they are handling. They work hard to ensure that data is safe and protected, for use only by you and your medical team.
How will my data be used with IoT tech?
IoT healthcare data is shared with your medical team as needed. The data will often be analyzed with software and results reported back to your doctor for them to action the next steps based on the information provided. Sometimes, IoT devices are used in medical trials or research studies. If this is the case, the medical team or IoT service provider has a duty of care to ensure you are aware of how the data will be used, and they will need to gain your consent to use the data in any studies. The main aim of data collected by IoT devices is to benefit your health and provide a more accurate view of what’s going on to provide better treatments and recovery.
What if I don’t own a smartphone?
Not all IoT devices require a smartphone to be connected, although they can be enhanced through such a connection. If a smartphone is required, the doctor or medical team will provide you with one and instruct you on how to use it for the purposes of your IoT healthcare. There is no reason why your health should be held back because you don’t have access to technology, and doctors are keen to ensure everyone is able to benefit from the latest in medical IoT.
Is a laptop or computer an IoT device?
While computers and laptops are used to collect and process data from IoT devices, they are not IoT devices in themselves. You can often connect apps via your computer if you want to review the data more easily, but an IoT device is typically a piece of technology or software that is designed specifically to enable better healthcare monitoring.
What are the current challenges for IoT-driven healthtech ventures?
There are two challenges I can think of immediately that have no solid solution yet: latency and room roaming. The first one is crucial, since a patient’s life can depend on how fast the devices pick up their vitals and transmit this information to doctors’ devices. A delay of a few seconds can result in irreversible consequences.
The second challenge room roaming, is a technological one. Imagine a hospital where each piece of equipment is chipped with a beacon endlessly broadcasting its location for the staff to see. The tricky part is making sure those signals are not overlapping and creating double data profiles on different receiving devices.
The future of IoT in healthcare is exciting
Closely interconnected with breakthroughs in bio- and DNA-engineering, prosthetics, and remote monitoring, IoT technology is poised to positively impact the quality and accessibility of healthcare – and possibly quality of life too.