In the present day, nothing quite advances our ability to deliver healthcare more effectively and efficiently than the Internet of Medical Things. Not unlike how the smartphone revolutionized the telecommunications industry, the Internet of Medical Things is already shaping the healthcare industry and how patients interact with their healthcare providers. In a time in which healthcare demands have never been higher, the Internet of Medical Things aims to make healthcare smarter, faster and more secure than ever before.
What Is the Internet of Things?
The term “Internet of Things” refers to the rapidly expanding network of physical objects that have an IP address to connect to the internet. This broad term also includes the communications that occur between objects and other internet-enabled devices.
The Internet of Things affects virtually every area of healthcare, and its value proposition is broad. As discussed in a 2016 seminar led by Donna Hoffman and Thomas Novak, George Washington University professors of marketing, the true value proposition of the Internet of Things includes the totality of new experiences that emerge as consumers connect and interact.
The healthcare industry sometimes uses the more specific term the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), or the Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT). These terms all refer to the same type of technology.
Adopting the Internet of Medical Things into new workplaces is often welcome. The technology usually means increases in speed, accuracy and efficiency. As current healthcare technology trends continue, experts anticipate that the Internet of Medical Things will continue to change the healthcare landscape as more hospitals and healthcare facilities adopt it.
While the Internet of Medical Things may provide numerous benefits, healthcare professionals must consider the risks to get a full view of the long-term effects.
The Internet of Things in Healthcare
In healthcare, the Internet of Things is not a new concept. The healthcare industry has been using telemetry for many years. Telemetry is similar in that it gathers data remotely and transmits it via radio or cellular signal. Still, the healthcare industry overall has made little progress incorporating Internet of Medical Things technologies into healthcare in recent years.
The technologies we see today may offer a glimpse of what is to come. Hospitals, clinics, diagnostic laboratories and surgical centers around the world are already using various implanted, stationary and wearable medical devices for patients. Web applications also incorporate the technology of the Internet of Medical Things to improve workflow management, patient monitoring, medication management, telemedicine and more.
The technologies outlined below are a few examples of how the Internet of Medical Things is being used in healthcare:
Health Sensors for Eldercare
The Internet of Medical Things has already had a great impact on eldercare. This may be due in part to the enormous cost of eldercare. With in-home healthcare costs averaging $4,576 per month according to Genworth Financial’s 2020 Cost of Care Survey, new technologies provide great opportunities for significant cost reduction. Eldercare is already using the Internet of Medical Things in devices to track wandering patients and help seniors live safely and independently.
For example, Origin Wireless developed a remote patient monitoring system that uses Wi-Fi and artificial intelligence to monitor enclosed spaces to look for signal disruptions, such as when a person abruptly falls to the floor. This disruption would then trigger emergency responders and authorized family members of the event. Other data streams can be used to monitor activities such as breathing, eating and sleeping.
The use of the Internet of Medical Things with patient data is currently limited, providing a large opportunity moving forward. Considering the low nurse-to-patient ratio in hospitals, the Internet of Medical Things streamlines nurses’ workloads by offering continuous monitoring compared to manually checking in on patients every few hours. Devices currently connected to the internet emphasize patient needs and improve the speed and accuracy of care through telemetry and accessible electrocardiogram results. In the event of a medical emergency, medical staff is notified in real-time.
Many hospitals use Bluetooth Low Energy and/or Bluetooth to track employees, equipment and supplies. This helps reduce theft and keeps staff working at a productive level.
Health informatics (HI) is changing the way healthcare functions. To lower costs and increase efficiency in healthcare, the tools associated with HI are being used to enable better doctor-patient communication and reduce redundancy in health systems operations. To this end, new healthcare apps are being created and used by millions of patients across the country. These apps allow patients to take control of their own health by being able to monitor their diet and exercise and access timely instructions from their physicians.
Before these apps were commonly used, patients would be forced to meet with care providers in person, even for simple things such as receiving test results. Certain apps now allow test results to be sent to a patient’s smartphone in real time. Also, some costly doctor visits can be avoided since many healthcare apps now allow patients to communicate with their doctors from home.
“Patients with heart disease can send information about their heart rate straight to their doctors [and] accessories allow diabetics to monitor their blood glucose levels by sending the results straight to their smartphone,” according to Vincent DeRobertis, senior vice president of global healthcare at Research Now Group.
A great example of how healthcare apps are increasing efficiency comes from Mt. Sinai’s primary care clinic and Dr. Aparna Sarin. In the past, Dr. Sarin used to print information for a variety of procedures — where to send a diabetic patient for care, how to order a colonoscopy, etc. She would then take the printouts and physically deliver them to their respective locations throughout the hospital. If something were to change, like a phone number or location, Dr. Sarin would then have to repeat the printout process and deliver new copies. With the CareTeam app she and her colleagues are now using, many of these mundane and time-consuming steps are eliminated.
Doctors and healthcare providers are increasingly tasked with improving the quality of patient care while lowering costs. Healthcare apps are playing an important role in this effort. According to DeRobertis, “Apps are improving healthcare professionals’ knowledge of their patients, while patients feel a lift in their quality of life.”
The factor that makes for greater patient satisfaction is also what brings down costs: healthcare apps allow doctors to spend their time on the tasks that truly matter. By referring routine tasks in patient monitoring and administration to a healthcare app, doctors can focus their attention on one-on-one consultations in complex cases and intensive procedures.
One example of a time-saving healthcare app is CareTeam. Released in 2012, this app walks new staff through a clinic’s protocol, step by step. This app was developed by senior medical staff to help cut the time they spent answering questions, both in person and in emails. Medical students working in the clinic can now learn independently to perform routine tasks, some of which can be completed through the app directly.
In fact, more medical professionals are taking it upon themselves to solve their own issues through the creation of apps like these. “Medical students at every institution are developing apps,” said Jonathan Weiner, a professor of health policy and management and health informatics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Analysts expect that the revenue from mobile health apps like these will reach $149.3 billion by 2028, according to a Grand View Research report. With more and more healthcare apps being created, the new challenge in health informatics is finding a way to make them interoperable across systems.
Risks and Roadblocks in the Internet of Medical Things
The healthcare industry has been slow to adopt these technologies because the risks may be greater than in other industries. The industry handles sensitive information that must remain secure at all times. Although the Internet of Medical Things offers many potentially life-saving benefits, its technologies store patient information that must comply with patient privacy and security regulations.
Security is part of any technology discussion, but it is especially challenging in healthcare. Stringent regulations make it difficult and time consuming to produce devices in compliance with legal and medical requirements. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) mandates the security for all patient data that is created, received, maintained or transmitted electronically.
Cybersecurity is an obvious concern because of potential hacking, but subtler dangers exist as well. For example, an internet-savvy patient connected to an internet-enabled infusion pump could potentially find service documentation online and increase or decrease their own dosage of medication. Hackers have also attacked entire hospital networks with ransomware, threatening to shut down their healthcare system unless they are paid large sums of money.
Dangers of Rapid Growth
Hospital leadership may be hesitant to adopt any new system that has not been fully vetted. Often new technologies have not been field-tested adequately, so hospital executives may feel the risks are too great. To standardize the introduction of new Internet of Things medical devices, such as insulin pumps, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is working to create guidelines for connected devices. These include accountability measures, such as data encryption, whenever data is being transmitted in or out of the network.
A system will be more vulnerable when numerous changes are made in a short time. Security risks may increase exponentially, making it more difficult to pinpoint the root cause of an issue.
The Future of the Internet of Medical Things
The potential for the Internet of Medical Things is promising. As more healthcare providers successfully adopt these technologies, approval for more devices will increase. This increase will likely be cautious, but it will change the way we give and receive care for the better.
Technologies of the Future
Because the industry has been cautious to adopt internet-enabled healthcare devices, we can more easily predict the technologies that may be implemented in the future. Below are a few technologies that have been introduced to the healthcare industry.
Surgical and Internet of Medical Things Tagging
Currently, some eldercare practices use the Internet of Medical Things to tag patients, but this technology could be put to even wider use. With patient and equipment tracking, low-cost tags could associate the patient with their medical history. In surgery, doctors can tag a limb for operation, scan a barcode and receive all the information needed to begin surgery. This type of tagging is likely to reduce errors and save time.
Healthcare providers wash their hands less than half as often as they should, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While staff are required to wash and sterilize before entering a surgical environment, their overall hygiene is also very important in healthcare.
Thingsquare developed a hand-washing device utilizing the Internet of Things that blinks for 20 seconds to remind people how long to spend washing their hands. It also measures the amount of time people spend in front of the sink washing their hands, and then transmits that information to its database. This data provides valuable insight as to how diligent we’re being with handwashing and hygiene practices.
Future technologies may allow hospital staff to monitor how often bathroom sinks turn on and how much water is dispensed. This type of behavioral monitoring can help stop the spread of infections through unsanitary habits.
Healthcare management could discipline staff once the pattern of behavior is established, but overall monitoring and maintenance of a program like this could lead to better hygienic practices by all staff members.
Technology companies are focusing a lot of resources on the rapidly expanding eldercare market. The future of eldercare may include technologies to help monitor seniors in their own homes, thus increasing a person’s independence and reducing the need for personal assistance. These monitoring systems can collect data pertaining to body temperature, sleep activity, abnormal movements, eating habits, bathroom use, medication management and other biometrics. The big advantage is that these systems utilize continuous monitoring, which is advantageous in the event of a medical emergency.
Patients are increasingly taking control over their own health and well-being through wearable devices. In the near future, such devices will take some manual work away from users. For example, patients could use smart glasses to record food choices, calories and portion sizes to send to their healthcare provider. Doctors could then make dietary suggestions, delivered via push notification to the user’s smartphone. Consumer wearables that connect patients and doctors are likely to become more mainstream in the coming years as they are more widely adopted.
The realm of vocal diagnostics may sound more like science fiction than reality, but one Canadian company is working to bring such technology to market. Winterlight Labs has developed verbal analysis technology that detects cognitive impairment associated with dementia and mental illness.
3D printers are often powered by the Internet of Medical Things. Together they have the ability to produce life-saving products, such as 3D-printed organs and tissues, drugs and medical imaging. The first 3D-printed pill was made in 2016 by Spiritam to treat epilepsy. The 3D printing technology allows the pill to dissolve on the tongue, which is a major benefit to those who rely on medication and have trouble swallowing pills. Medical imaging created by 3D printers, including liquid and plastic models, is giving physicians an enhanced view of the internal workings of a patient’s body to help identify potential health issues.
The market for 3D printing in the healthcare industry was valued at $973 million in 2018, according to Allied Market Research. It is projected to grow to $3.6 billion by 2026. Customized prosthetic devices currently comprise the largest market share of 3D printing in healthcare, but the future of 3D printing offers many more opportunities. In the future, doctors may be able to implant 3D-printed organs made from a person’s own cells. Its impact could be immeasurable, but it first needs FDA approval, which means it must undergo testing and regulatory compliance before being brought to market. This technology is likely many years away.
Funding for Internet of Medical Things Solutions
The flow of healthcare investing has fluctuated a great deal in the past decade, but the market is thriving today. Investors are expected to invest in the categories that show the most promise. As of right now, the focus is on finding technological solutions that can help monitor and combat COVID-19.
The Internet of Medical Things is expected to have a global economic impact of $1.6 trillion by 2025, according to a McKinsey report cited by MedTech Intelligence.
The biosensors market specifically is forecasted to make a large jump in market value. According to MarketsandMarkets, the biosensors market is currently valued at $25.5 billion in 2021 with a projected growth of up to $36.7 billion by 2026.
Other major areas for funding may include cognitive computing and artificial intelligence.
Political Changes and Healthcare
Policy and politics play an important role in healthcare investing and the entire healthcare industry, but this is especially true in the early days of a presidency. Investors will pay careful attention to any potential changes made to the Affordable Care Act and are likely to base their decisions on such changes. Although this may seem to create vast uncertainties in the market, analysts are predicting investments that carry minimal risk. Currently, analysts are favoring data and consumer-oriented companies.
Become a Leader in Healthcare
Due to the cautious nature of the healthcare industry, it is difficult to predict the potential of the Internet of Medical Things. However, considering the current funding allocated to healthcare innovations, a small revolution may not be so far in the future. Business-savvy individuals with a deep background in healthcare are poised to make the greatest impact on the healthcare industry and the widespread implementation of the Internet of Medical Things.
Grand View Research, “3D Printed Wearables Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report by Product Type (Prosthetics, Orthopedic Implants), by End User (Hospital, Pharma & Biotech Companies), by Region, and Segment Forecasts, 2020 — 2027”
Grand View Research, “MHealth Apps Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report by Type (Fitness, Medical), by Region (North America, APAC, Europe, MEA, Latin America), and Segment Forecasts, 2021 — 2028”
Markets and Markets, “Biosensors Market with COVID-19 Impact by Type, Product (Wearable, Non-wearable), Technology, Application (POC, Home Diagnostics, Research Lab, Environmental Monitoring, Food & Beverages, Biodefense) and Region — Global Forecast to 2026”