The internet of things (IoT) is a term you hear more and more often these days. And it’s a catch-all term that describes any electronic device you can connect to the internet. It encompasses things as complex as radiation monitors at nuclear power plants to something as simple as a washing machine that you can start from an app on your phone.
More and more such smart devices are entering the market place and having an enormous impact on a variety of industries. And the multi-billion dollar healthcare industry is one such venue. The rate at which IoT is impacting healthcare devices is scaling up quickly, and IoT is in turn helping to create devices that are faster, safer, more efficient, and more effective. Here, we discuss three of the most important uses of the Internet of Things in the healthcare industry today.
Personal Health Monitoring
From a personal perspective, IoT devices are giving people more knowledge and control of their health and allowing them to more easily connect with medical professionals. Through personal health monitoring systems and independently of medical professionals, people are now able to retrieve real-time information about items as varied as their blood pressure, blood sugar measurements, quality of sleep, and more. No longer tied to appointments or doctor visits, whether online or in person, patients can self-monitor, take better care of themselves, and relay information to doctors so they have more knowledge about what is happening between visits.
Many types of personal health monitors are used today in the healthcare industry. But what these IoT monitors have in common is that they track some aspect of your health and produce data that can be easily accessed, often on a smartphone or smartwatch that is in the user, caregiver, or doctor’s possession, or the devices store the data on the cloud for a healthcare professional to access.
One good example of a popular IoT personal health monitoring category is sleep trackers. In recent years, there has been more importance put on the quality and quantity of a person’s sleep and how it relates to overall health. In an attempt to get the best night’s sleep possible, these monitors track your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, room temperature, and more, in order to determine a person’s optimal sleep habits.
Diabetes care is another arena of the healthcare industry where IoT devices have led to major improvements in how diabetics can better monitor and manage their blood glucose levels. A vast number of devices now monitor conditions like insulin levels and blood sugar and communicate the information to a smart device app. This level of connectivity allows diabetics to better address fluctuations of insulin and track their levels over the course of a day, potentially preventing major diabetes-related crises.
What do all medical facilities have in common? Lots of medical equipment. Whether it is your family pediatrician, a cosmetic surgeon, or a major metropolitan hospital, they use and store sophisticated medical equipment worth millions of dollars–sometimes for immediate use and at times when needed during a crisis. The emergency calls for respirators during Covid-19 are a good example of this. With IoT devices, medical facilities can better manage their physical assets in order to be prepared.
IoT location tracking works in two different ways for medical facilities. One method allows medical professionals and administrators to know exactly where in their facility medical equipment is located. Using an IoT location tracking device, employees can get real-time information about where important equipment like defibrillators, wheelchairs, monitoring equipment, and even hospital beds are being deployed throughout the hospital. This allows staff to find this vital equipment when they need it or to locate more within the building if the current supply in one location is not enough.
Another way that location tracking IoT devices assist in medical settings is with supply chain management. As Covid-19 taught us, medical supply shortages can be devastating, especially in an emergency. Tracking down shipments and orders once required painstakingly combing through spreadsheets, matching up purchase orders, and making phone calls or sending emails. Now, with IoT devices embedded in the supply chain, medical facilities can easily track the supplies they need for their own office or an entire interconnected healthcare system.
Environmental monitors have had a huge importance in the healthcare industry. With so many different, technical, health-related operations and regulated areas in a hospital, monitoring and ensuring the safe functioning of environmental conditions within these controlled spaces has been extraordinarily important.
In the past, health care environments were monitored with standard data loggers that people had to go to and physically check to get the information they needed to ensure that the environment was in compliance with hospital needs or regulations. Today, companies like Dickson provide internet-enabled data loggers for this purpose. These data loggers seamlessly connect to any number of devices so building managers and healthcare professionals can monitor the condition from anywhere and even be alerted remotely when something changes.
Internet-enabled data loggers monitor the environment for factors as varied as temperature, pressure, and humidity, which are all important in different ways in hospital settings. For example, the temperature, humidity, and pressure that you need to store certain drugs or vaccines will be different than the levels you want in a neonatal intensive care unit or in an adult cardiac care unit–and these may be far different than what’s required in a surgical center or operating room.
Monitoring these aspects of a healthcare setting remotely with IoT devices has made it easier and more cost-efficient to run hospitals using less manpower. This has been especially important during COVID-19 where the ability to keep hospitals operating smoothly while also reducing the number of people on-site and in critical areas became even more crucial.
Personal health monitoring, location tracking, and environmental monitoring are giant steps forward for healthcare that is made possible by the IoT. While these are critical for day-to-day management, they are also just the tip of the iceberg. IoT devices are changing and will continue to alter the healthcare landscape as we know it and improve care and hopefully outcomes for doctors, patients, administrators, and everyone else involved in this industry.