The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the term for the abundance of devices in existence today that connect to the Internet in order to perform some function. IoT has made its way into nearly every aspect of people’s lives, and it’s starting to find a place in healthcare as well. This has given rise to increased remote connectivity and automated functionality in healthcare technology. The Internet of Things could revolutionize the way doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers care for their patients, collect data, and manage patient privacy.
Current IoT Devices
The IoT has already made inroads into healthcare. Internet ready medical equipment allows patients to collect and transmit important health information while at home. For example, many wearable devices now track and transmit patient data such as heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels so they can be observed by physicians. Monitors worn overnight record the patient’s oxygen levels so sleep apnea and other disorders can be detected. Other devices calculate and transmit proper medication dosages then track adherence levels. And there are wearable wireless monitors that can call medical personnel at the push of a button should the wearer be unable to reach a phone in an emergency.
Hospitals can increase efficiency by utilizing the IoT to track inventory, gather patient health information, and monitor patterns in data. Wearable devices give doctors, nurses, and other personnel important information about a patient’s needs without having to ask repetitive questions or perform unnecessary tests. And, expensive medical equipment that is connected to the Internet can inform hospital staff electronically when it is time for maintenance, thereby decreasing down time, saving on repairs, and extending the life of the machinery.
As the Internet of Things becomes increasingly prevalent, it will doubtless play a larger role in healthcare in general, making providers more efficient than before. The ways that healthcare providers gather information will likely become much more streamlined as additional devices transmit data to the cloud, potentially decreasing the necessity of follow up visits. Virtual visits, conducted via the internet, are already being conducted by some physicians, for initial consultations and certain low complexity cases. Who knows what other time saving innovations and discoveries lie ahead?
New Tech, New Challenges
In order for healthcare providers to gain these efficiencies, their IT infrastructure and wireless network must be able to accommodate a large increase in traffic. This could take significant investment in time and capital for some institutions. And along with new technologies come the risks associated with transmitting data over the cloud. In order to remain compliant with regulations such as HIPAA, transmitted data needs to be managed in a way that is well guarded against unauthorized access. On the other hand, new technologies may help providers comply more completely with other laws such as EMTALA or Medicare’s Hospital Readmission Reduction Program.