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Hundreds of devices are being connected to the internet daily, providing these devices with communication capabilities. This phenomenon is often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). Research by both Gartner – which names IoT as one of the key technology trends of 2016 – as the IDC – predicting that IoT will be a market worth as much as $7.1 trillion by 2020 – suggests that a significant number of new IoT applications will be introduced in 2016, and more sensor data will be collected through “smart” devices. The Internet of Things can help us make better, well-informed decisions in all aspects of our lives.

So, the Internet of Things is rapidly changing the way people live, work, and manage their health. The improved communication and cohesion facilitated by IoT are becoming increasingly evident, especially in the healthcare industry. New technologies assist in predicting future trends in healthcare, making it easier and more accurate to diagnose patients. For instance, it’s easier for healthcare providers to monitor patients remotely and track their progress, ultimately making treatments more effective and efficient. Below are some ways IoT is currently offering opportunities for healthcare.

Enhanced patient record-keeping.

Every time a patient visits a doctor, hospital, or other healthcare institution, this is recorded in the patient’s medical file. However, there are limitations to accessing this file, leading to crucial information sometimes not being included – a frustration for general practitioners and specialists alike. Doctors often rely on patients to provide their medical history, and it’s sometimes difficult to remember which treatments patients have undergone and what procedures have been performed. IoT technologies can streamline this process and keep the involved doctors informed about all appointments, treatments, and medications prescribed during the period between routine appointments, ensuring more continuity of care.

Improved diagnoses.

The internet is constantly evolving, with increasing information available on various treatments and procedures. With the wealth of information and case studies provided by IoT, healthcare providers can better diagnose patients and make more precise prognoses, for example by looking at treatments being carried out elsewhere in the world.

Better preventive measures.

With the information made available through IoT technologies, the healthcare industry gains insight into treatments and strategies happening in other regions with different patients. The effectiveness of these treatments will be documented and the information made available to all healthcare providers, offering new opportunities for patients who do not benefit from their current treatment, or where it is not clear that they are at increased risk of certain conditions. This new way of communication leads to more efficient collaborations between healthcare providers and patients, resulting in improved treatment methods and lower healthcare costs.

Patient monitoring.

IoT gives healthcare providers the opportunity to monitor to what extent their patients adhere to the prescribed treatment. For example, a doctor could receive a notification if the patient correctly takes their medication, or automatically measure someone’s glucose levels. If someone’s health is at risk, intervention can be taken earlier; healthcare providers could be alerted if a patient forgets to pick up or take their medication, or simply hasn’t done so.

A more effective treatment plan.

Another advantage of the latest IoT technologies is the ability to completely tailor and personalize both short and long-term treatments to the patient. Patients will have the opportunity to monitor their own health and the impact of interventions they undergo without having to repeat and retell everything to their doctor. This increases the likelihood of patients adhering to the treatment recommended by the doctor, reduces the likelihood of patients being readmitted repeatedly, and reduces the number of patients who fail to attend their routine doctor’s appointments; saving both the consumer and the healthcare provider a lot of time and money.

Insight based on population data.

The abundance of information about healthcare could be consolidated into a manageable, clear source of information that provides insight based on population data; on conditions, ailments, and medical problems. This greatly helps in determining the best treatment method, as there is no need to constantly experiment whether something works or not, which often takes a lot of time and resources.

New IoT technologies promise to support a better approach to healthcare, potentially leading to better outcomes for patients seeking solutions and cures for chronic conditions. As the number of devices connected to the Internet of Things continues to grow, interoperability is one of the crucial areas where improvements need to be made; specifically, the ability to integrate these various devices into the healthcare workflow. We are still in the early stages of using IoT technology in healthcare, but it is an area that is quickly gaining momentum – and patients can play an active role in this process by using their devices to proactively monitor their health.

In the digital healthcare industry, sensors connected to the internet are becoming increasingly important, and there are many innovations in this area. Some examples of innovations include:

Smart labs – For obtaining accurate data on food contaminants, a fully organic chemistry lab is normally required. However, thanks to IoT, startups can tackle food safety with devices connected to consumers. For example, an allergen monitor made by 6SensorLabs can test whether your food contains gluten in just 2 minutes – with a result accuracy of up to 99.5% – and then send the results directly to a smartphone. 6SensorLabs CEO, Shireen Yates, argues that their product Nima might eventually be used to detect E.coli and salmonella.

Smart Glass Technology – Ever wondered why the majority of your annual check-up consists of watching your doctor fill out paperwork? That’s because keeping track of your medical record – patient history, lab results, medication, and examination results – remains a manual process. According to Augmedix, as much as 1/3 of a healthcare provider’s week is spent on administrative tasks. Augmedix is a company that uses smart glass technology, like Google Glass, controlled by voice commands. This allows doctors to quickly record appointments with their patients and add data to the patient record hands-free, stored over a secure network. This technology could potentially save doctors an average of 15 hours per week.

Moodables – Wearables that can influence mood – or “moodables” – are just emerging, but for example, Thync produces a wearable for the head, which sends low-strength electricity to the brain, improving mood. Other wearable manufacturers, such as Halo Neuroscience, use similar techniques to “enhance brain performance in both healthy and weakened individuals.”

Smart pills – One of the leading companies in this field, Proteus Digital Health, is developing a pill-sized sensor that can simply be swallowed by the patient, which monitors whether the patient takes the prescribed medication.

Challenges of IoT

One of the biggest issues is security/privacy: people often feel uncomfortable with the idea of their personal data being accessible to others and stored somewhere. Patient records must be securely kept, and therefore it can be difficult for new, recently released devices to access all the necessary information. Privacy requirements could hinder some of the useful functions of the devices and make it impossible to gather information about patients.

Whether it’s private facilities or public hospitals; healthcare institutions will need to tailor their privacy policies specifically to the growing IoT technologies coming their way. Companies and organizations will need to collaborate on their policies so that information can be viewed securely, and they must also protect the information against hackers. As NHS data breaches have shown, people are very concerned about their privacy when it comes to their medical records; this also applies to other information that hospitals may have, such as financial or insurance data. Hackers may be very interested in this wealth of valuable information – for financial reasons, but also in terms of reputation damage or blackmail.

As for the functioning of IoT, the challenge is to manage the systems well and to use the data as effectively as possible. According to Marsh, the future should bring better infrastructure, better data regulations, and increased security, while also making it easier for reliable IoT companies to access this data.

There are, of course, a huge number of policymakers, companies, NGOs, charities, and funds that want to use the technology as effectively as possible – there are countless conferences that, even if they are not focused on health tech, address the impact of IoT on healthcare. One such conference is Healthy IoT, an international event held for the third year in a row, covering topics from data streaming to security and privacy.

With the shift to IoT and apps in the healthcare industry, almost any company can potentially become a healthcare provider. But time will tell whether enough precautions have been taken to encourage professionals and patients to make the most of IoT – a market that, with the right choices, has considerable potential in both human well-being and business.

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