By now, you’ve probably heard of the Internet of Things (or IoT), a technical term for any network of sensors and small computing devices that exchange and share information to improve the performance of real-world systems.
Global shipping companies are attaching smart IoT tags to monitor and transmit the status of each of their pallets, trucks, ships and containers, right down to their exact location, temperature, humidity and light exposure. Interstate gas pipelines have hundreds of sensors that power a predictive maintenance regime. Across industries, IoT networks are saving billions of dollars in direct costs (inventory, labor, security) and indirect efficiencies through reduced maintenance and greener operations.
Healthcare is no exception. According to Fortune Business Insights, the industry ranks fifth in global IoT spending. Medical IoT is projected to grow from $41 billion in 2020 to $188 billion by 2028. The growth is for good reason: connected medical devices combined with the right software can improve conditions and delivery, optimize care and devices, and save lives.
As the healthcare industry grows into an IoT opportunity, practitioners must do what they do best: triage for the best solutions while ensuring system safety and reliability. More devices mean higher vulnerability to cyber attacks. Before spending an IoT dollar, you should triple check the security reliability of each vendor. And don’t forget a plan to manage the daily flow of data produced by these networks.
Some IoT solutions are gaining attention, such as digital pills with sensors which alert a healthcare network when they encounter a patient’s stomach chemistry. Also promising are apps that use the Apple Watch for track the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms. But three IoT use cases are even more interesting to me because they are available now, tested on the road, and improving the lives of millions of people every day.
Associated AEDs to avoid loss of life
Almost 18 million people die annually from cardiovascular disease, with 40-50% of these deaths due to sudden cardiac arrest. Without immediate treatment, survival rates are extremely low, less than 1% worldwide.
Automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) have significantly prevented life in sudden cardiac arrest. You’ve probably seen them mounted on the wall in airports and offices in case of emergency. These semi-portable devices can monitor and analyze the patient’s heart rhythm, guide a bystander through chest compressions and, as a last resort, come with shock absorbers to help restore the patient’s heart rhythm.
While hospitals are well equipped to treat accidents, some 350,000 cardiac arrests every year are held outside the hospital. Most of them are fatal. Consumers have until recently been reluctant to purchase and keep an AED in the house or car. They were too expensive and not as portable, but AEDs are coming down in price and having one on hand can make a huge difference. Research shows that proximity to AEDs can increase survival rates to 100% when they can deliver shocks within 2.2 minutes.
This is if the AEDs are charged and checked regularly and this is where the IoT comes into play. Connected AEDs can continuously assess battery and paddle health and transmit patient data to first responders and medical professionals for real-time remote monitoring. The FDA is approving more of these portable AEDs. I predict that every home, office and public place will eventually have a connected model ensure its maintenance and avoid tragedies.
Improving glucose monitoring for better diabetes management
Traditionally, diabetic patients have used finger pricks to test their blood sugar levels. This method has two major drawbacks: It does not continuously monitor levels, and the inconvenience of these tests causes some patients to check less often than they should. Without access to real-time data, America’s 37 million diabetics are more vulnerable to extreme swings in glucose levels that can cause disorientation, loss of consciousness or even death.
The solution is continuous glucose monitoring, which combines a wearable sensor and a smartphone app to track blood sugar levels 24/7. CGM systems can issue predictive alerts before glucose peaks or troughs. In the longer term, I see diabetes patients combining continuous monitoring with IoT-connected insulin delivery devices that learn from data how much insulin to administer and at what time.
Non-stop monitoring of critical sleep disorder information
An estimated 25 million adults in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. IoT has the potential to transform apnea treatment by allowing doctors to access real-time patient information and develop more accurate treatment programs.
Millions of Americans now wear CPAP devices at night to force air into their lungs at enough pressure to prevent airway collapse. The advent of internet-connected CPAP devices will allow patients to upload daily sleep data to a cloud-based management system, providing secure real-time analysis of treatment progress. Doctors and patients will be able to treat sleep disorders when they occur and take action when needed.
The benefits of IoT connectivity in healthcare are clear: better outcomes, more efficient care delivery, and happier patients and care professionals. As long as the industry remains on top of growth issues around cyber hacks and data governance (both manageable issues), I see a long future ahead of this technology.
Photo: Andrei Suslov, Getty