Internet of Things in Healthcare – Bright Spots in an Industry with a Reputation as a Slow Technology Adopter

Blog 17-6 - Healthcare IoT

by Ramesh Koovelimadhom, February 10, 2017

Healthcare is a late and slow adopter of technology. It has garnered the reputation as being one of the slowest adopters – second only to the shipping industry.

So how will change happen in an industry fraught with information governance challenges, interoperability issues, lack of or poor data integrity and data quality, and security and compliance requirements?

Change is inevitable, and consumer adoption and demand will spur it.  Adoption of industrial internet and the Internet of Things (IoT) by healthcare has started and the pace is picking up.

IoT has far reaching impacts across all determinants of health, whether it is general socio-economic, cultural and environmental conditions, social and community networks, or individual lifestyle factors. The connectedness with IoT improves the ability to react with speed and the ability to scale. These two changes alone will result in higher quality delivery and affect whole communities positively.

Being able to monitor and support a person free from ‘physical constraints’ will change the way clinicians interact with patients. It can help to drive down costs from clinical and operations inefficiencies by roughly 25% or about $100 billion per year, according to Intel, A guide to the Internet of Things & General Electric Company (2012) Industrial Internet: Pushing the boundaries of minds and machines. This is not just a utopian vision anymore. Here are where we see some major developments, and these solutions are available to buy or in development today:

Have I taken my medication?

  • Electronic Pill dispensers – Designed to remind individuals to take their medication at the right time and to ease the burden of complex medication regimens, electronic pill dispensers such as my uBox and MedMinder alert both the patient and their caregivers.
  • Smart watches – Already designed to act as a health and fitness companion with all the capabilities of a fitness tracker, smart watches (such as Apple Watch) have the potential to integrate with multiple technologies. Releasing the new version of the Watch OS on June 13, 2016, Apple has announced a new fitness app for it. The new app lets users connect with others to see activity and progress and send messages and heart rates to others. The activity tracking for wheelchair users has also been greatly improved, with “time to roll” alerts in place of time to stand. The watch can track wheelchair pushes in a variety of ways and will display them in the activity rings. Another new health app is called Breathe and is designed to encourage relaxation and breathing techniques. It can provide haptic (touch) feedback to guide users when their eyes are closed.
  • Electronic bottles, Caps and Pouches – Wireless smart pill bottles, such as Adheretech, measure the volume of tablets or liquid left in a bottle, while GlowCaps use light and sound to signal when it’s time to take your medication. Inhaler attachments, such as GeckoCap and Asthmapolis, monitor where and when an inhaler is used.
  • Pharmacy on a chip – Currently undergoing clinical trials, microchip drug delivery technologies administer controlled doses of a drug at precisely the right time via a microchip inserted on the waist. Still in its infancy, the technology holds promise for improved patient adherence managed remotely.
  • Biomonitoring drugs – Ingestible sensors as small as a grain of sand exist today. Helius by Proteus Digital Health is a digital health feedback system. Embedded in a tablet, sensors communicate with a patch worn on the stomach. This then relays information to your phone, and further to your support network and care providers.

I want to track my own health and that of loved ones

  • Fitness – Designed to provide insights into our own health and motivate us to increasing levels of fitness, many of us are no doubt familiar with wearables that track our activity, such as the Jawbone UP, Fitbit, or more recently, Misfit Wearables’ Shine and the Microsoft Band 2. LG and Intel also both produce smart ear buds that monitor your pulse. Bragi, a German manufacturer of in-ear wireless smart headphones is also integrating over 23 sensors.
  • Home Monitoring – Home monitoring matters to both families and care providers alike as it enables independence. Systems such as Sensormind, Sonamba, Numera Libris and Libris+ use sensors to detect activity, analyze behavior and automatically detect problems.
  • Wellbeing – Psychological wellbeing is vitally important and IoT can help. From wearables focused on breath patterns and fitness, such as Spire and Lumafit, to stress mapping bicycle helmets, such as MindRider. Or Olive, an intelligent bracelet that monitors heart rate, skin conductance, ambient light, motion and skin temperature.
  • Family – IoT knows few bounds when it comes to supporting our loved ones. We now have invisible electronics of Pixie Briefs smart nappies, which analyze urine, check hydration levels and identify signs of UTIs. Kolibree is a connected and gamified electric toothbrush, while other wearables help keep track of your pregnancy.
  • Clinical Support – AliveCor is a heart monitor that attaches to your smart phone and is capable of recording EKGs. Physicians can use the technology to detect arrhythmic cardiac disease, irregular heartbeat or abnormal heart rhythm. AliveCor EKGs can also be automatically uploaded into select Electronic Health Records (EHR).

Can we get to the scene of an emergency faster?

  • eCall – an interoperable, harmonized in-vehicle emergency call system is mandatory in all new car and van models produced within the European Union since October 2015

We want to prevent and control infections

  • To reduce healthcare associated infections (HAIs), companies such as Intelligent M, HyGreen, IBM in collaboration with OhioHealth, and BIOVIGIL are creating sensor technologies and networks to monitor hand washing practices in real-time.

Can we develop a predictive lifesaving approach?

  • The LIFEPAK 15 portable heart monitor and defibrillator allows medics in the field to capture patient data and send this information directly to the hospital. Such M2M technology enable faster response times. It also ensures that patients are routed to the correct hospital for treatment, appropriate caregivers are notified and swift diagnostic decisions are made.
  • Researchers at IBM are working on a host of predictive solutions designed to improve healthcare in real-time, enable faster interventions and save lives.
  • Project Artemis, developed in collaboration with the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology and the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital, allows subtle changes to be detected in nosocomial infected infants 12 to 24 hours before any outward signs appear.

We want to increase medical device utilization

  • There are 105,000 CT scanners and MRI machines globally. By connecting medical devices and machines to the internet it becomes possible to monitor in real-time, run remote diagnostics, provide virtual hands-on support, automate replenishment and analyze utilization. Using IoT, Varian Medical Systems have seen a 50% reduction in mean time required to repair connected devices, a $2,000 reduction in service costs for each problem resolved remotely and 20% fewer technician dispatches worldwide

As a nation, effective public health policy is important

  • Underworlds smart sewage system – Examining aggregated wastewater across several cities, the MIT Underworlds project is designed to establish the techniques and technologies required to deploy a near-real-time network of biosensors, automata and purpose-built labs. Once realized, this will enable real-time public health strategies, inform policy, and provide greater insight into urban health.

According to a survey of 122 founders, executives and investors in health-tech companies released in September 2016 by Silicon Valley Bank, big data and artificial intelligence will have the greatest impact on the industry in the year ahead. Healthcare delivery and healthcare IT also promise the most growth in 2017. (https://www.svb.com/News/Company-News/big-data-and-artificial-intelligence-hold-greatest-promise-for-healthcare-technologies/)

The fate of the Affordable Care Act is shaping up to be the hottest healthcare issue publicly in 2017, but investors are watching trends and M&A activity just as closely. Let us hope that the decisions made spur investments and adoption in IoT, since the benefits are far reaching.

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