How the IoMT is Transforming Healthcare
The Internet of Things (IoT) is generally associated with the collection of vast amounts of data. But, in the medical field, it is providing a basis for a more personalized form of healthcare.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is generally associated with the collection of vast amounts of data. But, in the medical field, it is providing a basis for a more personalized form of healthcare that offers an alternative to traditional face-to-face consultation between doctor and patient.
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), as it is known, enables healthcare professionals and their support teams to collect data from devices worn by patients, and store and analyze that data in the cloud.
As a cloud-based service, IoMT simplifies the process of collecting and storing data and sharing the information with other authorized professionals. Increased levels of adoption will see the IoMT market reach $410 billion by 2022, according to analysts from Grand View Research.
However, commentators believe that long-term growth will depend on creating the right customer experience and the development of end-to-end solutions that let professionals make sense of the vast amounts of data and deliver personalized healthcare.
From mhealth to IoMT
The IoMT has grown out of the earlier efforts of mobile healthcare or mhealth, as it is known. Patients wear devices that monitor vitals, such as blood pressure, heart rate or glucose levels, and transmit the results to hospitals or medical centers, rather than visiting doctors to provide the information.
This has helped reduced the pressure on medical facilities and improved convenience for patients who are less able to visit their doctors. Mhealth has also improved the quality and availability of healthcare in remote rural areas or regions with limited or poor medical facilities. Smartphones have also played a role in mhealth, enabling doctors and patients to hold virtual meetings to discuss treatment or support via remote diagnosis.
Data at scale
The IoMT takes mhealth to a new level by supporting the collection of data at scale, allowing healthcare professionals to make decisions based on thousands or millions of data points. The range of devices is increasing, too. Wearables that measure patients’ vitals retain a central role, but fitness monitors and bands, glucose monitors, infusion pumps and smart hospital beds equipped with sensors to monitor changes are providing even more important data.
More innovative solutions are on the horizon with wearable devices such as a necklace that can analyze what patients are eating, and monitor calorie intake. Google has developed a contact lens-like device that patients can wear in the eye to monitor glucose levels, and a biometric stamp that can measure and transmit patients’ vitals is under evaluation.
Insights for action
Real-time data only has value if it leads to improved diagnosis and treatment. One healthcare company is currently collecting data from thousands of patients following its treatment program to determine how different types of patients respond to the therapy. The company has also developed software that analyzes individual patients’ responses and makes recommendations on personalized treatment regimes.
The company drew on more than two hundred million data points to create its personalized service. This level of insight and personalization would be impossible to achieve at scale when patients visit medical centers. The number and frequency of visits and the volume of data would overwhelm a center’s resources.
Other analytics programs enable healthcare professionals to improve service to patients remotely by providing access to patient data on demand. Professionals can then use the data and the analytics programs to gain greater insights and send reminders and advice to patients via mobile devices.
By connecting home medication dispensers and monitoring devices to the cloud via smart devices, professionals can receive alerts when patients fail to take medication or their condition changes. The company claims that the solution can help professionals ensure greater adherence to medication regimes and increase patients’ commitment to health improvement through exercise and nutrition programs.
The vast amount of data available through IoMT and the ability to share findings through the cloud support collaborative treatment. In its simplest form, doctors can share information to obtain expert opinions or treatment recommendations from a specialist.
IoMT can also form the basis for a type of crowdsourcing in healthcare. Here, professionals contribute their diagnosis or opinions on rare diseases or complex medical problems. Using a form of scientific polling based on algorithms, the participants offer a solution that speeds diagnosis and gives patients the benefit of a wide range of expert views.
That data and its related insights are available as a knowledge base that can help specialists identify and solve complex problems in the future. Commentators note that problems of liability and payment may act as barriers to the wider adoption of this form of crowdsourcing, but the application demonstrates the potential of IoMT to deliver new kinds of healthcare.
IoT solutions are now used to track the location and quantity of products as a form of automated stock control. This also has application in healthcare as hospitals use the technology to monitor stock levels of essential supplies or to locate equipment in storage or in medical wards. Administrators use RFID tags fitted to the equipment to monitor and manage it.
Using the same RFID technology, hospital administrators are now able to track patients’ progress through the hospital when they are visiting for consultation or staying for operations or treatment. The information enables administrators to identify bottlenecks in the system or departments where additional resources are needed.
It can also provide patients or their families more information on ER waiting times, available dates for operations, and progress of patients in recovery. This provides a more accurate basis for planning and managing hospital resources, improving efficiency, reducing costs, and improving the patient experience.
Some hospitals are taking the process further and offering patients and their families access to doctors’ notes, IoMT data and other treatment information through a secure patient portal. In addition, the same principals of shared information let patients upload data that might be useful to doctors—from their own connected devices.
Challenges to adoption
Many of the innovations resulting from IoMT provide a valuable platform for the evolution of healthcare and the provision of better, personalized treatment for more patients. However, for the initiatives to succeed, both healthcare professionals and patients must buy into the changes.
That means creating a great patient experience through simple, easy-to-use devices, and clear benefits. Doctors can play an important role in advising patients on the most suitable devices for their conditions, and providing feedback to patients to demonstrate that the devices are providing improved care.
Doctors must also increase adoption rates by recognizing the benefits IoMT can bring to their practice. IoMT suppliers must provide clear use cases that doctors can assess to review the potential for their patient group. Doctors also need to have access to an end-to-end solution that enables them to access data and insights quickly and easily and receive real-time alerts when the data indicates that action is needed.
A 2013 survey by eClinicalWorks assessed healthcare providers’ interest in mobile health apps linked to electronic health records (EHRs). The results show providers want their patient engaged, and see clear benefits in health outcomes with this connection. According to the survey, 93 percent of respondents felt a mobile health app connected to EHRs delivered value.
Ninety-three percent of respondents believed that mobile health apps can improve a patient’s health outcome, and 89 percent were likely to recommend a mobile health app to a patient. Respondents felt that the top three benefits of this technology were medication adherence (65 percent), diabetes management (54 percent) and preventative care (52 percent).
Driving a culture change
In many ways, IoMT represents a culture change for both patients and doctors. But that change will only take place if both parties are confident of beneficial outcomes. And any new initiatives must overcome requirements for regulatory compliance, particularly with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects the privacy of patients’ health information.
Because IoMT promotes and enables the collection and sharing of health information by a number of different parties, doctors and healthcare providers must enforce security of data.
If IoMT can overcome these initial challenges, it could prove to be the solution to rising healthcare costs that are being driven by a rising population of people over 65, which could rise to almost 20 percent of the US population by 2030, according to Administration on Aging.
As IoMT continues to evolve, it could ultimately transform US healthcare by offering broader, more accessible, and cost-effective solutions.