From smart phones to smart homes, “smart” devices have become a staple of everyday life.
In fact, Cisco estimates that since 2010 there are more “smart” devices—defined as devices connected to the internet—than people on the planet.
The proliferation of “smart” devices and innovations in wireless technology have not escaped the healthcare industry.
Recently, the FDA has cleared certain smartwatches with ECGs, paving the way for their use as medical devices.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the Internet of Things (“IoT”) and how IoT-based patient monitoring systems are helping to pave the way for improved patient outcomes.
What is the “Internet of Things”?
The term “Internet of Things” is often attributed to RFID pioneer Kevin Ashton.
Though there are many different definitions for the term “Internet of Things,” this post is based on the one offered by Techopedia:
The Internet of Things… is a computing concept that describes the idea of everyday physical objects being connected to the internet and being able to identify themselves to other devices.
Historically, the vast expanse of networks, nodes, and packets known as “the internet” fell within the realm of information technology companies.
But the IoT revolution changed things.
With innovations in RFID and semiconductor technology, the Internet of Things extended the powerful capabilities of the internet beyond the technology sector to the far reaches of many industries—including the medical device market.
Today, the Internet of Things and the concept of “smart” devices have changed the way we acquire information, communicate, and monitor our health.
How are IoT-based patient health monitoring systems improving outcomes?
Open up your favorite search engine, type the phrase “smart health” into the box, and hit "enter."
You will be inundated with articles, academic papers, and websites discussing IoT-based patient health monitoring systems.
This is because these “smart” health systems are providing numerous benefits to patients around the globe.
Two of the primary ways IoT-based patient health monitoring systems help improve patient outcomes is by giving healthcare providers the ability to collect and wirelessly transmit real time data and analyze the data to uncover patterns.
Collecting and Transmitting Real-Time Data
The ability for doctors to safely monitor patients outside of the hospital is possible thanks to the internet of things.
With innovations in medical sensor, wireless technology, and cybersecurity protocols, doctors can now monitor their patients’ health in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago.
What’s more, thanks to advances in cloud computing, healthcare providers can access and share their patients’ data at the exact moment they need to.
For patients, these innovations help reduce the amount of time spent in a hospital, increase comfort, and improve their ability to manage their own health.
Analyzing Patient Data
IoT-based health devices enable health care providers to collect more patient data than ever before.
This new influx of patient data has fueled a new industry of people dedicated to developing software to uncover patterns and trends within the data that can improve diagnosis and treatment.
Today, algorithms are already outperforming radiologists at spotting malignant tumours, and guiding researchers in how to construct cohorts for costly clinical trials...
Ongoing innovations within the worlds of machine learning and artificial intelligence will only continue to improve computational prediction and diagnosis capabilities.
Smart patient monitoring system examples.
Far from being a theoretical, futuristic concept, smart patient monitoring systems are being used around the world as you read this.
Though there are numerous examples of IoT-based patient monitoring systems, we’ll highlight three applications that are currently trending: heart monitoring, biomarker sensing, and treating COVID-19.
The internet of things is helping bridge the gap between consumer products and healthcare.
One application where this shift is apparent is heart monitoring.
The first ECG machine was created in 1887 by Augustus Waller.
Well over 100 years later, the only way to get a reliable, accurate ECG readout was from a machine in a hospital.
However, thanks to the emergence of the internet of things and advances in sensing and wireless technology, this has changed.
Now, consumers can buy smart watches from any electronic store that, among other things, have an ECG function that has been cleared by the FDA—no prescription or visit to the hospital required.
These advancements are paving the way for IoT-based monitoring of other patient vitals such as blood pressure and oxygenation.
Though still in its early stages, IoT-based biomarker sensing technology is showing potential for improving patients’ quality of life.
“Smart” contact lenses with integrated sensors and wireless connectivity capabilities are now being tested on patients prone to hypoglycemia events.
These contacts sense the glucose levels in tears and provide the data in real-time to the healthcare provider.
Compared with the alternative method for measuring glucose and hemoglobin levels—drawing blood—these non-invasive, IoT-based technologies show promise for improving patient comfort and outcomes.
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed innovation in the patient monitoring space.
These innovations have been beneficial for both patients and healthcare providers.
For patients, IoT-based patient monitoring systems can help reduce the time spent in the hospital for COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment.
For healthcare providers, the ability to remotely monitor—in real time—patient vitals like blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygenation helps reduce potential exposure to the virus.
What’s more, the power of smart devices and the internet of things are being used for contact tracing and other COVID-19 tracking measures—paving the way for faster diagnosis and prevention of the virus.
Though it can sometimes feel as though we can’t live without our smart devices, it’s important to remember that we are still living in the early phases of the internet of things.
There are many possible applications for IoT-based technology within the medical device realm, and engineers are consistently producing new, promising healthcare innovations that live at the crossroads of IT, biomedicine, and electro-mechanics.
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