IoT, the Internet of Things, is an ecosystem of physical devices that are connected to the internet and capable of collecting valuable data. IoT is applicable and beneficial to practically every industry, and healthcare is no exception. Interconnected devices can help monitor a lot of health-related issues to improve patient care, track hospital assets to optimize operational processes, and bring advancements to medical research. These are only a hint of how healthcare institutions and professionals can benefit from the IoMT (the Internet of Medical Things).
With more providers realizing the potential behind IoT, medical devices represent one of the fastest-growing sectors in healthcare IT. The global market of the Internet of Things in healthcare devices is predicted to reach $284.5 billion by 2027—the number is 7 times higher than predictions for the EHR/EMR market!
Let’s explore in what ways IoT is beneficial for medical organizations and what exactly can be achieved with its help.
The Internet of Things and Its Role in Healthcare
The purpose of IoT in any industry is to make life simpler, and the Internet of Medical Things aims to make self-monitoring more accurate and accessible, while also tending to improve hospital efficiency and some medical procedures.
Not health monitoring alone can be enabled by IoT. The major benefits of interconnected healthcare include:
- Better patient monitoring inside and outside a hospital environment. Various solutions can help transmit patient data from their home to doctors and hospital staff. This results in reduced unnecessary follow-up visits. In general, monitoring devices help doctors know more about potentially dangerous patient behavior and provide advanced diagnostics.
- Help to people with chronic illnesses and the elderly. IoT medical devices can detect critical situations and set alerts for medical help in an emergency.
- Support for medical research. Since connected healthcare devices can generate tonnes of valuable data, they can contribute to data analysis, which, in turn, improves the quality of treatment and pushes for technological advancements.
- Operational efficiency. IoMT isn’t limited by wearables and monitors for various conditions; smart beds utilized in medical facilities are another great example. Smart beds allow monitoring dozens of health signals and automatically updating a patient’s record. They also can spot sudden changes in a patient’s movement, which can be vital in acute care institutions.
- Decreased equipment downtime. Medical equipment was the first healthcare sector to have IoT implementations: monitoring expensive devices like MRIs and X-ray machines via the cloud allows for predictive maintenance and results in less downtime.
- Enhanced inventory management. Thanks to IoT, hospitals can easily track lots of assets: drugs, inventory, hardware, etc. This way, it’s easier to manage hospital operations, allocating the right resources and ensuring that the equipment is available when needed. Asset tracking with the help of RFID tags or other types of smart labels is applied to surgical tools, inventory, laundry, or basically any piece of equipment.
- Virtual medical documentations. Some IoT solutions like Augmedix are designed to improve clinician productivity by automating visit data, capturing dictation, generating suggestions, and synchronizing with patient records. Such AI-powered solutions are extremely helpful in the context of telemedicine.
Altogether, all these benefits come to a single argument, and an important one: IoMT means reducing medical expenses due to better patient monitoring and supply and staff management.
Connected Medical Devices and IoT
Tracking health is nothing new: glucose monitors have been in use since the 1970s and fitness wearables designed for the general public pioneered in 2008. Over the years, lots of health checking features have been adopted in mobile apps and new devices have been developed for monitoring issues from blood pressure to sleep patterns.
Here are some common examples of medical application of IoT:
- Remote patient monitoring. IoT healthcare devices help a great deal in collecting patient data for analysis, treatment recommendations, and timely alerts. Smart and portable glucose monitoring solutions that eliminate manual records and provide patients and doctors with continuous real-time data; connected inhalers for monitoring and predicting asthma attacks; ingestible sensors for collecting information from a patient’s digestive systems are just a few connected medical device examples. The current pandemic has made the IoT necessity even more evident: many remote monitoring and hospital tracking solutions help manage hospital availability and improve treatment for Covid-19 patients. An innovative wireless biosensor was designed by Philips to help monitor Covid-19 patients in a non-critical state. Similar smart devices are used for improved continuous tracking of many different conditions (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, etc.).
- Self-monitoring. The self-monitoring trend is helpful for medical care and general fitness devices are extending the number of features at each iteration. For example, Apple Watch wearables allow users to track lots of health metrics including heart rate.
- Emotion-sensing technology. IoT has spread influence over mental health as well. So-called mood-aware devices (like Amazon’s Halo wristband) are backed by science and can assess mood and stress levels. Even though it’s hard to apply the collected data to actual mental health diagnosis and treatment, it’s a promising field that can bring more awareness to wellbeing issues.
- Robotic surgery and augmented reality. Robot-assisted and live remote-operated surgeries are already the reality. Small internet-connected sensors can help improve complex medical procedures, making them less invasive for patients and more informative for doctors. The AR technology is also making its way to interconnected healthcare: for instance, surgeons have already used Google AR glass to have medical data visualized in 3D and broadcast operations live.
The Issue of Security of IoT Medical Devices
Given that internet-connected devices are vulnerable to hacker attacks and data leakage, it’s a top priority to develop IoT solutions with the latest security practices in mind. There also many standards to comply with in healthcare development: HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act), NHS (National Health Service), and FDA (Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) for the US.
These regulations require the integrity and safety of personal health information from medical IT solutions. If a device that collects patient data lacks industry standards, the identifiable data can be exposed, leading to fraudulent insurance claims and other consequences.
When creating any hardware or software for use in healthcare environments, data security is one of the biggest challenges. In 2019, 82% of healthcare institutions reported that they experienced hacker attacks against healthcare devices. The internet only continues expanding, and so do security vulnerabilities. Since tracking devices involve a lot of sensitive information, it’s crucial for them to use proper encryption and comply with regulations.
The FDA is a regulatory body that conducts cybersecurity assessments and issues warnings to the public about manufacturers and devices with identified vulnerabilities. The FDA recommends developers proactively address security threats and provide mitigation strategies in case of any flaw. For example, in 2019, the organization reported vulnerabilities in Medtronic’s implantable cardiac devices: the wireless telemetry protocol that enabled data transfer from devices to clinicians didn’t use encryption, authentication, or authorization and thus was exposed to cybersecurity threats.
Primary measures to protect IoT medical devices from security breaches include:
- Encryption. The use of cryptography and public key infrastructure is a must for any platform that collects or stores personal health information. Symmetric and asymmetric algorithms applied to IoT can still not guarantee the best protection in real-time: Elliptic-Curve Cryptography and a Hybrid Lightweight Algorithm are more secure for the IoT application in medical devices.
- Network segmentation. Subnet division allows for better control over the network: this way, a locally implemented device for unintended use can’t impact the entire structure.
- Authorization and authentication. Any medical device and the infrastructure it’s connected to should limit access to data at all stages of interaction to prevent interception.
- An orchestrated update process. Updating IoT hardware and software is no easy task and it once again can expose devices to cyberattacks. Manufacturers and developers should adopt a secure and effective process for updating the system and validating it across all the devices that are in use.
- User instructions. Finally, giving end-users clear instructions on installation, configuration, and access won’t hurt.
At Empeek, we build HIPAA- and GDPR-compliant healthcare IoT solutions, making data protection one of the major development responsibilities. We’ve been developing medical software for over 5 years and have the expertise needed to build a robust system. Adopting cutting-edge software architecture and data analysis algorithms, we can create custom IoT apps or IoT extensions to enhance existing systems.
The era of IoMT is already upon us and connected medical devices will continue growing in number and functionalities they provide. From smartwatches used at home to chatty hospital beds with respiratory sensors, all these devices help track vital health parameters while automatically synchronizing across systems. Without any exaggeration, this technology can save lives, and speaking of day-to-day healthcare provider operations, it can reduce medical expenses, leading to improved outcomes and increasing patient and doctor satisfaction.
There’s practically no area that isn’t already monitored by smart medical devices. Healthcare specialists predict that medical wearables and sensors will become more accessible and also smaller, which will open ways for better treatment, less invasive procedures, reduced hospitalizations, and effective data use.
If you’re looking to implement IoT solutions for medical practice, contact us and we’ll discuss the development.