The Internet of Things (IoT) has penetrated all sectors of the technological sphere at an accelerating pace. According to Gartner, by the end of 2016, 6.4 billion IoT connected devices will be used worldwide, and by 2020, this number will soar to 20.8 billion. This predicted increase is indicative of the importance IoT will have on innovation within the healthcare industry; specifically, medical devices.

IoT connected devices can deter illnesses and manage chronic disease, among other benefits.

There are numerous benefits surrounding the utilization of IoT in medical devices: enabling preventative care, home care, critical care response, and others. As medical device manufacturers, healthcare practitioners, and enthusiasts continue to embrace the benefits of technology in healthcare, it may be of interest, especially for medical device manufacturers, to explore the intersection of medical technology and IoT.

For medical device manufacturers to successfully enter and establish themselves in the new connected healthcare industry, it is imperative that they look beyond traditional forms of technological innovation. IoT for example, would be an avenue for consideration. Medical device manufacturers are uniquely positioned to be successful in this market, as they have a profound understanding of the regulatory process, critical applications, and patient risk. If they correctly integrate IoT in their next-generation devices within the regulatory environment, they will have a true market advantage.

IoT connected devices will enable a new generation of medical devices capable of transmitting data on an ongoing basis. Not only are there more dollars within the medical sector, but the industry can experience real-time response. With this innovation, feedback loops can be generated to engage healthcare professionals in a timely manner. Additionally, IoT will enable the medical community to perform deep data and data analytics, and ultimately produce cost-effectiveness within all these sectors.

IoT and Preventative Care

IoT connected devices will revolutionize the way healthcare is provided, especially in the area of preventative healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), seven out of ten U.S. deaths are caused by chronic disease. Roughly half of the country's population is diagnosed with a chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, AIDS, or other ailments classified by the medical community as preventable. The increase in the number of individuals diagnosed with chronic illness is not necessarily because people are not interested in taking the steps to live a healthier life. The issue here is that people are not getting the feedback they need when they are proactive in making changes to their lifestyle. They have limited feedback on how the implemented changes are directly impacting their short- and long-term health goals. This sets up the individual for relapse and patient noncompliance, which costs $289 billion annually, according to the CDC.

With IoT connected devices, home-based monitoring tools will become connected, enabling the patient to have access to the data and make better health decisions. Unfortunately, the healthcare system follows a reactive model, where action is only taken when illnesses occur. This often leads to chronic problems and critical-care treatment. IoT devices have the potential to facilitate a directional shift from a reactive healthcare system to a more preventative healthcare system, which can help people live healthier lives and deter illnesses while driving down costs.

For example, a glucometer becoming an IoT connected device would greatly improve its usability. Today, when a diabetic uses their glucometer, the device simply stores a few readings that are not meant to be analyzed by the user. Most diabetics will not use a glucometer to understand their blood sugar level patterns. They adjust their sugar intake according to their blood-glucose level at the moment, but until they visit their doctor, the majority of diabetics are not informed of their progress.

Freestyle, a medical device company that introduced a glucose monitoring system that logs insulin doses and glucose readings together, surveyed approximately 1,000 Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics and found that 36 percent do not log their results because of various reasons. Some people believe it is inconvenient and time-consuming, and most patients feel that keeping a log is not useful as many do not know what to do with the data. Through IoT, data can be automatically obtained, transmitted, and analyzed by software. This information is stored and can be used to create a trend analysis so an individual can see how their decisions are impacting their blood glucose on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis without logging this information. By cutting down the time between the patient’s daily use of the glucometer and their visits to the doctor for proper pattern analysis, it incentivizes diabetics to act faster and smarter when it comes to their health. Also, positive feedback and reinforcement will encourage individuals to make healthier choices. This would work similarly with other medical devices such as blood pressure monitors, cardiac monitors, etc. Heart monitoring devices could help patients receive early treatment before their condition becomes critical, enabling health professionals to detect abnormalities and arrhythmias, and automatically send the data, creating a more efficient diagnosis process.

IoT and Remote Home Care

bioflux is an ambulatory monitor that detects heart arrhythmias, helping physicians diagnose cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease. It performs remote mobile cardiac telemetry (MCT) diagnostic monitoring for up to 30 consecutive days, and transmits ECG data via a built-in cellular radio in real time so cardiac-triggered events can be monitored remotely as they occur.

Battling chronic diseases and managing them at home is challenging, taking a toll on both the patient and caregiver. When patients are ill but not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, the need for a caregiver is crucial. However, the job of the caregiver is very involved and costly. In fact, according to AARP, more than 34 million unpaid caregivers provide care to someone over the age of 18 who is ill or has a disability. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that unpaid caregivers provide an estimated 90 percent of long-term care, while the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) reported that the majority of caregivers (83 percent) were related to the patient. In 2007, an average of $5,531 is paid out of caregivers’ pockets to care for someone age 50 or older. Further, the caregivers’ responsibilities can be demanding. A NAC report said they found it difficult to find time for themselves, manage emotional and physical stress, and balance work and family responsibilities.

Having IoT connected devices would be beneficial in reducing emotional and financial strain on caregivers, and provide better healthcare to the patient. These devices can be used to provide at-home patient care without the need for another person to be present 24/7. According to AARP, 37 percent of caregivers had to reduce their work hours or quit their job due to the responsibility of caring for someone age 50 and older.

A support system of IoT connected devices can be used to facilitate self-care and lead to better patient compliance. For example, cameras and sensors can be used to track patient movements and behaviors in the home. Monitors can collect and transmit a variety of data to healthcare providers, eliminating the need to visit or call a clinic. These technologies can also provide reminders to people at home to take medications, measure their blood pressure, perform physical therapy, or schedule follow-up appointments.

IoT Enabled Deep Data and Data Analytics

Better preventative care and remote monitoring is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of IoT integration within medical devices. Deep data and data analytics also provide an opportunity for IoT to positively impact the medical device industry. At the moment, extracting data from a medical device is a daunting process. It either has to be integrated into the electronic health record, or be network-enabled, as it cannot push data to health providers. If IoT devices are designed to constantly push data, it can be stored and analyzed to look at anomalies, averages, and a variety of different metrics in order to make well-informed decisions.

However, with the constant transmission and compilation of data, there is a high chance of hoarding data that is not necessarily useful. The key challenge is to determine what data is relevant, how long to store it, and what data can be deleted. Otherwise, efficiency is compromised as an infinite pile of data is analyzed when only a small portion is useful. This is a very real challenge that will have to be addressed in order to preserve the efficacy of IoT connected devices.

IoT devices can also improve data analytics through their accuracy, speed, and plethora of transferable information. In population health improvement, healthcare leaders such as health administrators, insurers, consultants, and/or academics collect the data for a particular population that they analyze to determine what the averages are and how they can improve the averages of that patient population. The key point is that data must be aggregated. With IoT devices, data will be forwarded automatically, making it more accessible and accelerating analysis and results. Providers will increasingly look to analytics to provide predictive and prescriptive capabilities.

Data analytics would be achieved by devices and software. Medtronic developed a wearable medical device that can send glucose level alerts up to 30 minutes ahead. In this example, the pump delivers tiny drops of insulin in accordance to the body’s needs, and can be temporarily altered around daily activities. It incorporates a continuous glucose monitoring system where the user can get readings every five minutes, straight to the pump. Throughout the day, glucose levels can be automatically tracked, including the effects of food or exercise, to provide a more complete picture. The testing of glucose levels and insulin distribution can be done simultaneously with the constant communication of data throughout the device. IoT can be a key contributor once it is integrated. This information can be transmitted to the diabetic’s doctor for remote monitoring and eliminate the need for constant checkups. Medical device companies will see a better approach to serving consumer markets by aggregating and interpreting the often massive amounts of data acquired via IoT devices.

IoT and Critical Care Response

Traditionally, critical care response is most effective within a hospital where nurses are alerted via medical devices to help patients in distress. However, once a patient leaves the hospital, this type of immediate feedback is no longer available. IoT devices will allow data to be transmitted to a remote location monitored by healthcare professionals who can expertly analyze the data. Taking it further, machine intelligence and algorithms can be utilized to autodetect anomalies, enabling data to be transmitted to the appropriate individual for a response. Knowledge of the patient’s background and medical history would be readily available, and the critical care response can be tailored to the patient’s needs.

One of the key issues of critical care response is the lack of information received by the critical response team in the event of an emergency. When 911 is dialed, an EMT arrives and attempts to care for the patient with no prior knowledge of the person. Most of the information they receive is what they are able to gain from family members or the individual. There is no data on medication used by the patient or the presence of chronic illness. If an IoT system is implemented, the device can send an alert and inform the EMT about the patient (e.g. chronic illnesses, allergies, medications, and/or medical complications) so they can respond faster and more accurately. This will also drive costs down, because it will enable the patient to be cared for faster while also minimizing complications.

A reduction in complications can result in early hospital release and a decrease in hospital fees. For example, eCall is a vehicle emergency call system that recognizes when a car has been in a collision, and with IoT, eCall can actually calculate the severity and communicate the location of the accident and direction of travel. This information is automatically sent to the appropriate emergency services. Once IoT is involved, individual health records can be communicated through this system, leading to a faster, better, and a more prepared response.

Enabling Cost-Effectiveness with IoT

Cost-effectiveness can be achieved in a variety of ways with IoT connected medical devices. By shifting from a reactive healthcare industry to a preventative one, medical fees can decrease substantially. According to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau Statistic Brain Research Institute report, patient care took over 64 percent of the healthcare industry, generating annual revenue of $1.068 trillion. Cutting down the cost is not only a benefit from IoT connected devices, but is mandatory.

There are two aspects of cost-savings for IoT. The first is due to the reduction in complications due to faster treatment because EMTs have better knowledge of the patient. The second aspect is due to the patient being released from the hospital faster because data is transmitted in real time, which enables patients to use a less-expensive facility for long-term care. While improving the healthcare industry with a better system to save lives, cost-effectiveness is an all-encompassing end result for the integration of IoT within medical devices.

How IoT Will Disrupt Healthcare

With the advent of IoT connectivity, the opportunities for medical device manufacturers are endless. The automatic transmission of medically relevant data through IoT connected devices will revolutionize the healthcare industry and the way data is analyzed. Doctors and physicians will be able to assist their patients faster and more accurately with the instant sharing of data.

With IoT enabled devices, there can finally be a shift from a reactive healthcare system to a preventative one, where illnesses will not only be better treated, but will also be avoidable. Elderly patients will be able to stay home alone with their IoT connected monitors, and both physicians and patients will have complete access to medical information. Additionally, critical response personnel will be able to handle emergency situations more effectively, resulting in a faster, better, and more affordable healthcare industry.

This article was written by Waqaas Al-Siddiq, CEO and Founder of biotricity Inc., Redwood City, CA. For more information, Click Here .


Medical Design Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2016 issue of Medical Design Briefs Magazine.

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