With the growing demand for healthcare and the need to fund the system, IoT could provide a healthy option to improve efficiencies and provide a better service for patients. According to Grand View Research₁, the global market for IoT in healthcare is expected to reach $534.3 billion by 2025, expanding at a CAGR rate of 20.2 per cent. The main use cases for IoT in healthcare have been traditionally around remote health monitoring but there are many more in a diverse number of areas. The NHS has focused on two main areas – self-care and tracking resources.
Certainly, with the greater use of wearables by consumers, there is a much more awareness of personal health tracking. With more of these devices becoming more sophisticated and recognised by the medical profession they can check anything from blood pressure to pacemakers, pill bottles and inhalers. Connected devices have the advantage of sending feedback to doctors who can intervene much faster and help to prevent further complications such as a heart attack or stroke or hypoglycaemia. Preventative care has potential benefits for the health system as well as the patient.
The second area relates to the tracking and monitoring of assets using IoT and RFID. This could be for medical equipment, beds, controlled substances and other hospital building assets.
The NHS has been trialling two Internet of Things Test Beds which are part of IoTUK, an integrated £40m, three-year Government programme that seeks to advance the UK’s global leadership in IoT. One, referred to as the Diabetes Digital Couch, is using IoT monitoring devices for people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes to self-manage their condition. It will also encourage more timely and appropriate interventions from peers, healthcare professionals, carers and social networks. The other, referred to as Technology Integrated Health Management, is designed to help people with dementia to live longer in their own homes. The patients and their carers will be provided with sensors, wearables, monitors and other devices, which will combine to monitor their health at home. This will empower people to take more control over their own health and wellbeing, as well as enabling health and social care staff to deliver more responsive and effective services. In addition, NHS Scotland has been trialling IoT enabled beds. Equipped with Bluetooth sensors, they can relay information about their location and maintenance record which is hoped will reduce costs and save staff time.
On the surface, IoT looks like a great remedy for the healthcare sector but this possible cure may take time to be effective. The healthcare industry doesn’t tend to adopt new technology fast. For obvious reasons, anything new needs to be thoroughly tested before it becomes mainstream. Then there’s the question of having sufficient funds to purchase the technology in the first place. Training is also an issue for doctors, staff and administrative staff who are already over stretched. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, security is a major concern. Not only in someone taking control of an external device but also in ensuring personal data isn’t compromised. The question surrounding ownership and responsibility is a complicated one.
No-one would disagree that maximising efficiencies in a health service which is constantly under pressure makes perfect sense. IoT is providing new applications, workflows and tools that have the potential to improve patient treatment and care whilst reducing the burden on hospitals as well as saving costs.
Sources and Acknowledgements: I-scoop, Forbes, TechRepublic