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.