The Internet of Things in healthcare: opportunities and boundaries
In the world of healthcare, Internet of Things is not new - although it wasn’t always called that. In the old days you needed numerous data and health condition of patients all the same - and these were also provided by different devices. However, with the appearance of the Internet (and thanks to it, the availability of a bigger amount of information), there are much more opportunities and more value to these data than you can imagine.
Today the three most important fields where IoT is either used successfully or being tested are the following:
- Care for the elderly
It is very useful that the data and conditions of elderly people may be monitored not only directly but from a distance as well. There have already been a few cases when a patient’s life was saved because an anomaly in their condition was detected thanks to a smart device. Besides this, the doctors and carers of those who suffer from dementia (and sometimes get lost or do not remember where they live) can be relieved as well, because this way they can always know where the patient is.
- Collecting and processing data
You must not underestimate the possibilities that lie within Big Data. Since we have access to more and more data (such as heart rate info and EKG results) thanks to the smart devices, it is also easier to set up hypotheses from the data. This leads to the fact that diagnoses and prognoses will be much easier to create based on the patterns and the illnesses that occur.
- Hospital care:
It is becoming easier and also cheaper to pay attention to patients at a hospital: where they are, why they are there, and what treatment they are getting. With certain sensors, you can also determine what types of medication a patient takes, and what portions they must take day by day.
MIoT - the opportunities
Although healthcare and IoT have been hot topics only for the past few years, it is still one of the most rapidly developing branches today thanks to the many opportunities it holds. Let’s see how the technology can be taken advantage of.
When it comes to healthcare, most people think about hospitals and examinations straight away. However, IoT can be of help not only for people who already have an illness but it can also have a huge role in preventing them. Just think about smart watches which monitor heart rate, and the sports applications they are connected to.
But let us go further than that: according to an American research, 65-70% of people die from a chronical illness. This is due to the fact that some people who suffer from a chronic illness do not get the appropriate feedback, and thus, they don’t know what kind and how big of a problem they have - so they cannot even change their lifestyle even though they should do so for health reasons. But even if they are willing to make some changes for a healthier lifestyle for a little while, there is a big chance that they will eventually go back to their original lifestyle without the necessary feedback.
With IoT and wearable technology all this can be prevented. Those who suffer from Type I Diabetes always know what their blood sugar results are. Those who have to take medication, can get notified if they hadn’t taken their daily dose (which may also be monitored by a smart device). So thanks to IoT, not only can we help patients be treated, but can make everyone life a healthier, fitter life.
Fewer hospital visits
Thanks to the possibility of constant monitoring, it will be possible for us to spend less time in a hospital: a basic blood pressure test can be done at home as well, and with the help of the Internet our doctors are able to see the results immediately. Since doctors and carers also have access to data from previous tests, they can notice immediately if there is some irregularity in the results. This way technology does not only make patients’ lives easier but reduces the possibilities of human error, and doctors can provide better care as well.
More data, healthier life
Let us set aside traditional medical equipment and focus on some more innovative ideas - because as we have mentioned before, IoT may not only be used in traditional hospital care. What about a pair of smart shoes that notifies you if you are training and are doing one exercise wrong? Most people don’t pay attention to their posture and puts more weight on one of their legs. And this can lead to injuries during training (or even walking).
And if we stay with the example of shoes: there is a lot of information that is useful not only to the wearer of the shoes but the manufacturers as well. For example they can find out where and under what circumstances their shoes are used, and what kinds of wears and tears they have - so they can make better equipment in the future.
This means that the data generated from IoT has more value than you can imagine - and this is still just the beginning.
MIoT - what about security?
The biggest drawback of the use of the Internet of Things is the question of data security. We all know similar situations from novels (which paint a pretty dark picture of the future): everyone is being watched, and a lot of data is available even if we don’t know about it. IoT security was one of the hottest topics at this year’s CeBIT, too - and it was also determined that IoT systems are relatively easy to hack. Professional security experts are required to provide the appropriate protection for the data, for users, and of course, for the patients themselves.
Since the data are delivered from the smart device to those who check and analyse them through the Internet, there is no way to know for sure whether the information is available to those and only those who actually have the right to see them. Not to mention the fact that if the system is easy to hack, then hackers can access different types of information from thousands of patients. Besides that, legislative acts don’t follow technological innovation straight away: nowadays there is no legislation concerning spreading, sharing and processing data through IoT.
This means that there is a lot of room for improvement on this field - both for technologí and law. But if we manage to create a system that can store data securely, make them available for the appropriate people, and become trustworthy for patients as well, MIoT may dramatically change healthcare as we know it today.
To sum up
It is almost certain that IoT and smart devices will soon be used everyday in healthcare. With the advance of technology, there will be more and more devices connected to each other, which will provide a broad overview of a patient or even the general condition of healthcare. The number of devices will increase but their price will decrease - which means that hospitals and health centres will be able to serve more and more patients - and to do is much better than before. By analysing the data, better diagnoses and prognoses will be available. If we manage to solve the problem of data security, IoT may revolutionise the health situation in as little as a few years.