"The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the internet did. Maybe even more so." quoted Kevin Ashton, a tech pioneer who coined the term "Internet of Things" in 1999. Approximately two decades later, his words and belief in IoT technology seem to be proven right.
"Internet of Things," aka IoT, has created quite a buzz as a breakthrough technology that makes things “smart”. All industries are eyeing this technology to make revolutionary "smart" products that simplify human lives, and healthcare is one such industry that has been most affected by this technology.
In fact, IoT in healthcare is a hot topic nowadays as the contribution of this technology in the healthcare sector keeps soaring. The "Internet of Things" contribution in the healthcare market was reported to be 24 billion U.S. dollars globally, but owing to the growing adoption of this technology, the amount is anticipated to reach 135 billion by 2025.
IoT saves a lot of time and cost for healthcare organizations and patients by helping doctors keep a check on multiple patients simultaneously, thus helping patients get well in less time. Reduced time of stay in the hospital means lesser stress on their pockets.
This way, IoT is solving much bigger problems healthcare faces effectively and economically, some of which we'll get to learn from this post. Before moving to the main topic of discussion, let's first take a brief look at IoT technology.
A Brief Review on IoT technology
Just as Kevin Ashton said, the Internet of Things, aka IoT, has brought a revolution to this world. It has become effortless for people to control appliances and monitor their surroundings with the help of IoT technology.
IoT is a technology that connects billions of devices to a shared network that further operate in synchronization by communicating, analyzing, and exchanging data. Owing to the promising nature of IoT, the technology has garnered attention and investments from all over the world.
According to Statista, the global spending on the Internet of Things will reach its all-time high, 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars, up from 686 billion reported in 2019. Healthcare is one such industry, which is heavily experimenting in the field of IoT technology and has successfully derived efficient solutions powered by it.
These stats might seem boring to go through, but they are equally important as they provide a genuine proof of the growing importance of a technology. This post will highlight some of the top problems most common in the healthcare sector and the IoT-powered solutions that effectively solve them. So, let's look at some of the most pressing issues or concerns the healthcare industry faces and how IoT is solving them.
Top Problems and Solutions Offered by IoT to the Healthcare Industry
Problem 1: Monitoring Health Equipment Remotely
Maintenance is an essential treatment that every machine needs no matter in what sector and for what purpose it's being used in order to ensure the proper functioning and longevity of a machine. And the importance and need for maintenance increases when it comes to the healthcare industry.
The modern healthcare system is strongly dependent on various kinds of machines and equipment. Be it for detecting disease, for pathological purposes, or for providing treatment; the healthcare sector is heavily reliant on machines. Even a slight mistake in handling and maintenance of these machines can result in false pathological reports, misdiagnosis of disease, and often worsening patients' health, especially when put on life-support machines.
IoT technology is helping healthcare industries solve the problems related to irregular maintenance of machines and equipment faced by healthcare organizations. Let's learn how IoT has found its way into solving this problem faced by healthcare organizations.
Solution: Predictive Maintenance Powered by IoT to Predict machine failure in advance.
Just like IoT is solving various problems related to healthcare, it's also facilitating remote diagnosing and maintenance of healthcare equipment to improve the longevity of machines and secure human lives from the threat of life-support system failures. Predictive maintenance is a term used for the process of predicting the component failures in equipment and the right time for its servicing or, say, maintenance.
IoT technology can be utilized along with Machine Learning and technologies like A.I. to access the condition of particular equipment and its various parts. Future internet and MDPI proposed a predictive maintenance structure powered by IoT to predict component or machine failure in advance.
Fig: Proposed PdM Structure block diagram, Source: MDPI
This figure depicts the proposed predictive maintenance(PdM) structure powered by the IoT block diagram. According to their proposal, different sensors need to be implanted in machines that continuously share the condition of a component in real-time via the communication module.
Further, machine learning and A.I. technology can be used for analytics purposes or, say, to analyze the data transmitted by sensors and predict the condition of the equipment. Based on the results derived from analytics, the personnel responsible for maintenance can take further action.
Fig: Proposed PdM structure using IoT, Source: MDPI
The above diagram depicts the proposed predictive maintenance structure of equipment using IoT. Sensors powered by the "Internet of Things" constantly monitor the health of equipment and send the data to an embedded device which consists of the software that stores, processes, and carries out the predictive analysis of the collected data.
This result is transmitted via the communication module to the web server, where the results are permanently stored and are available for virtual access. Using this data, the person responsible can take further suitable action.
Problem 2: Remote Health Monitoring of Patients
The communication gap has been a severe problem for both doctors and patients for a long time. This problem is faced by people from both urban areas and rural areas, but lack of resources and availability of good means of transit makes this problem a little severe for the people living in rural areas.
In most cases, people come from different places, when they have no hospitals in close proximity, to find the right doctor. In such situations, it becomes difficult for doctors to monitor patients' health who need continuous monitoring. To solve such problems, the healthcare industry is betting on the use of IoT-enabled remote health monitoring systems.
Solution: Smart Wearables Powered by Sensors to Keep the Doctors Updated about the Patients’ Condition
Remote health monitoring systems powered by IoT are easily adaptable and efficient solutions to problems caused by communication gaps between doctors and patients.
Remote health monitoring systems allow the doctors and families of the patients to stay up-to-date about the condition of patients in need of continuous attention. This kind of IoT-enabled system is usually integrated into devices such as wearables. Wearables can be of many forms, such as wristwatches, fitness bands, eyeglasses, smart clothing, body sensors, implantables, etc.
These wearables usually consist of sensors programmed to sense different human body parameters such as blood pressure, Spo2, heart rate, ECG, temperature, and other vitals. These sensors sense the signals generated by the body, and then the software embedded in the wearables decodes this signal and converts it into actual readings that can be read by humans.
These wearables can be programmed such that in case of any abnormalities in the vitals, the device sends an alert to the concerned doctor and family of the patient. No matter how far the hospital or the family is, this system keeps updating them about the patient's health continuously with real-time data.
This remote monitoring system powered by the "internet of things" helps the doctors remotely monitor their patients' health to take action in real-time considering the well-being of the patients. Cloud to which these wearable/monitoring devices and doctors monitoring systems are connected also plays a key role apart from IoT technology and other such mobile technologies.
Fig: Smart wearable device workflow, Source: nature.com
The above figure depicts the workflow of a smart wearable used by hospitals and clinicians to monitor patient's vitals. The raw and processed data collected via various sensors embedded in wearables are provided to clinicians to monitor their patients' vitals in real-time. Further, this data can be securely stored as EHR(Electronic health records) for research studies or to share the data with third parties for medical purposes.
Smart wearables have proven many times their efficacy and reliability in saving lives.
Apple Watch is credited to have saved lives multiple times, and one such example is how it helped a man save his own life by helping him notice his irregular heartbeat. The man named Lori was detected with arrhythmia, a condition that occurs when electric impulses in the heart don't work correctly and cause irregular heartbeat. Thanks to Apple Watch, the man noticed his abnormal heart rate and was compelled to visit a doctor, where he was further diagnosed with arrhythmia.
Problem 3: Covid-19 - Tracing, Tracking & Treatment of the Affected at a Global Level
The healthcare industry has faced and overcome many challenges with time, but the Covid-19 pandemic emerged as an unforeseen and one of the most deadly catastrophes ever faced by the industry. The industry's lack of knowledge about the virus, the resulting disease, possible symptoms, cure, and means of spreading initially made it very challenging to contain the virus. But today, nearly two years after the virus first emerged, the healthcare sector finally seems to be giving a tough fight to the invisible disease that took millions of innocent lives.
The covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on human health in multiple ways, both mentally and physically. After struggling since the beginning of 2020, at last, thanks to the brilliant scientists and doctors worldwide, we have found solutions in the form of vaccines and medications to impede the spread of this deadly disease.
Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, IoT, Drones, Robots, Gene-editing, nanotechnology, and many more played a significant role in helping the healthcare sector trace, detect, and fight the virus and derive the right formula for the vaccine. As the post is about the part of IoT in the healthcare sector, let's look at how IoT helped the industry tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
Solutions: Smart Helmet for Thermal Scanning of People & Smart Wearables for Remote Testing, Monitoring & for Assisting Patients
IoT technology is helping healthcare authorities in multiple ways to sustain and impede the spread of Covid-19 disease. IoT-powered solutions are assisting the authorities to collect real-time health information about the patient who tested positive for Covid-19 while they are quarantined and monitor their health condition regularly without going near them. In conjunction with wearable technology, thermal imaging systems, Artificial Intelligence, IoT is helping figure out infected people from the crowd.
The design of IoT-based, AI-enabled smart helmets has been proposed, consisting of thermal imaging and facial recognition systems. A part of the thermal imaging system, the infrared camera scans the crowd and measures the temperature.
Suppose the temperature measured crosses permissible limits using an optical camera. In that case, the image of the patient's face will be captured, and using GPS technology along with that image, the location of the individual will be sent to the concerned authority. This way, authorities can take action and advise the individual to isolate and receive the treatment.
Fig: Workflow of the smart helmet, Source: NCBI
IoT is also proving itself to be helpful in providing remote assistance and monitoring of the covid patients for the Doctors. Smart wearables integrated with features such as temperature check, Spo2 level monitor, heart rate meter, etc., are helping doctors monitor these vitals in Covid patients in real-time instead of visiting patients remotely.
Dr Ali Yetisen from Imperial College London supported the use of wearables for monitoring Covid-19 patients.
Problem 4: Fighting Cancer by Early Detection
Cancer, a deadly disease, has always been a very taxing issue for the healthcare sector. The Healthcare sector has come a long way when it comes to treating and detecting cancer not just in humans but also animals. Many technologies have helped the healthcare industry accelerate the progress in the fight against cancer, and one such technology is IoT.
Although significant advancements have been made in recent years against cancer, the sector still faces problems regarding early detection of the disease and correct treatment delivery. IoT is solving many such problems faced by the healthcare industry in the fight against cancer disease. Let's check out how IoT is helping in empowering the healthcare sector in tackling this fatal disease.
Solution: iTBra for Early and Pain-free Cancer Detection
For fighting cancer, it's more important to detect the disease first. One such type of cancer is breast cancer, which goes undetected even by advanced detection methods such as Biopsy and Mammography and is hard to diagnose in the initial stages. According to Statista, Breast Cancer is one of the most common cancers detected in women across the USA.
The traditional methods such as biopsy and mammogram are prone to errors when identifying a tumor and sometimes wrongly diagnosing the nature of the tumor, malignant or benign.
Carrying out the breast biopsy is an excruciating procedure for women, whereas mammography has its vulnerabilities, such as normal breast tissue can hide the tumor, thus leading to undetected tumors. Another problem with mammography is that it's not suitable for women of all ages as younger women have dense breast tissues compared to older women thus making the screening ineffective for younger women.
In recent years IoT has contributed a lot to the healthcare industry by allowing reliable remote monitoring of patients using wearables and other ways. Similarly, IoT has also found itself effective in detecting breast cancer in the initial stages and identifying the nature of the tumor.
Rob Royea, CEO of Cyrcadia Health, has developed a connected Bra called "iTBra," based on wearable technology. As described by Cisco, "iTBra," a wearable, consists of temperature sensors that track the temperature changes in breast tissues over a period of time. Then the data gathered is analyzed using Machine Learning to detect the presence of any abnormalities in the tissue.
Women only have to wear the proposed wearable for 2-12 hours in the gap of a month, and the material made to design these wearables is comfortable enough to help them perform their daily activities while wearing it. iTBra eliminates the threat of exposure to radiation which is a case in mammography. Moreover, the results are much more accurate.
A study was conducted on 93 benign and 108 malignant female subjects where 24-hr long breast skin temperature circadian rhythm data was collected. And it was found that "The predictive model developed using these datasets could differentiate benign and malignant lesions with 78% accuracy, 83.6% sensitivity and 71.5% specificity.".
This wearable technology solves the drawback of mammography, which fails to detect cancer in its early stages. The problem of missing tumors due to dense tissues varying with age in females is also solved as iTBra relies on technology, due to which the false-negative rate was found to be 17.3% for all tissue types. This rate is considered a massive improvement for women of every age group, especially those with dense tissues.
Hence to conclude we can say that the proposed model of “iTBra” is the best option for women to detect breast cancer in its early stages switching from other methods like Mammography and Biopsy.
The words of Dave Evans, the chief futurist of Cisco, seem to be accurate as IoT keeps invading various spheres of life and making the objects smarter and/ human lives more manageable. Be it the concept of smart homes to its use to predict the equipment failure of machines, IoT technology is changing the way things used to be done only to make it easier for humans to control their surroundings.
IOT is the Lifeline of the Healthcare Industry
Healthcare faces a ton of challenges daily, and when it comes to controlling and fighting sudden outbreaks of diseases such as Covid-19, things become a bit more problematic for the industry.
Through this post, I aimed to help the readers learn some of the key problems that the healthcare industry has been facing and how IoT is helping solve them. Using IoT-based solutions, healthcare organizations can improve the quality of the treatment given to the patients in order to make them fit in less time, thereby enhancing the patient experience.
IoT-powered wearables such as smart helmets are helping authorities tackle the covid-19 pandemic by ensuring that the infected individuals are spotted and separated from the crowd at the right time. At the same time, IoT integrated wearables like smart bands help monitor patients undergoing treatment that requires continuous monitoring.
IoT is also helping women fight deadly diseases like breast cancer by detecting it in the initial stages so that it can be cured at the earliest. In this way, IoT is proving itself to be a truly revolutionary technology that is transforming the healthcare sector for good.
Based on what we observed so far in this post, it can be indeed said that this is just the beginning of the tech revolution brought about by IoT in Healthcare, and the best is yet to come. According to me, it’s high time for tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs to invest and work in the field of IoT and particularly for its use in healthcare, not just for reaping more profits but also as a step towards making healthcare affordable for all.