The first internet was an “internet of people,” but now it coexists with the Internet of Things (or “IoT”) for short.
The term was coined by Procter & Gamble to describe its groundbreaking work in RFID devices, but industry experts speculated that philosophically, an “IoT” would exist when there were more “things”—i.e. discrete devices—connected to the internet than there were people connected to the internet by computer or smartphone.
Starting from the first internet-connected Coke machine, IoT has evolved to incorporate devices from virtual doorbells to remote climate control devices. But one of the most disruptive breeding grounds for IoT devices has been the healthcare industry.
Starting with the advent of wearable devices like the FitBit, healthcare and medtech thought leaders recognized the groundbreaking ability for IoT devices to give doctors and other providers a window into their patients’ daily lives.
No longer would medical data only be collected in the clinic. IoT devices could provide remote monitoring of health data from individuals to populations.
But IoT in healthcare has not stopped there. Devices are evolving to deliver care as well as track data. Here are five amazing use cases for IoT in health care you may not know about yet …
1. Artificial Pancreas
As of 2018, 10.8% of the US population suffered from diabetes, a condition that prevents patients’ bodies from stabilizing their blood sugar due to a deficit of, or resistance to, the hormone insulin. Diabetes results in a variety of health complications, some of them life-threatening.
One of the biggest daily miseries of a diabetic patient is self-injecting with artificial insulin. These injections may soon become a thing of the past with the advent of IoT-enabled automated insulin delivery (AID) systems, also known as “artificial pancreas” technology, after the organ that naturally produces insulin in a healthy body.
AIDs are closed-loop insulin-delivery devices that discharge insulin into the body. The first AIDs were operated by a handheld controller, but IoT artificial pancreases detect the user’s blood sugar levels using continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology and dispense insulin accordingly. The devices also create a continuous record of blood sugar data for providers to use to calibrate treatment.
2. Virtual Hospital
A “virtual hospital” sounds like a VR hospital environment to some people—and that is in the works! But “virtual hospital” technology actually involves a suite of vital-statistic monitoring devices that patients can take home, and which doctors can use to monitor patient vitals without the need for inpatient treatment.
These kinds of devices have been in development for years, but they got a big boost from the COVID-19 pandemic, when “non-essential” hospital visits were discouraged but patients still required monitoring and care.
One example of a “virtual hospital” IoT device is remote pulse oximeters—the clip that goes on your finger to measure your blood oxygen levels. IoT pulse oximeters transmit that data to the Cloud rather than requiring the patient to take up a hospital bed.
Other “virtual hospital” devices evolved in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help doctors and nurses keep their distance even from hospitalized patients while continuing to provide medical care. These devices remotely track respiratory function, alerting doctors of deteriorating conditions in time to provide life-saving treatment.
3. Cloud-Enabled Data Loggers
The first lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines were noted for a high degree of heat sensitivity, requiring sub-glacial transport and storage temperatures to remain potent. These vaccines are not the only example—many pharmaceutical products and medical devices require exacting temperature controls to remain effective.
The logistical process to keep these products at safe temperatures from manufacture to retail is called a “cold chain.” Digital data loggers have been critical tools for years in maintaining a cold chain. These devices note the temperature of the surrounding environment—factory, transit truck, warehouse, retail storage, etc.—and record whether the temperatures stay within a compliant range.
Previous generation data loggers could only tell you when the environment became too warm. They wouldn’t alert the logistics team in time to save the shipment—say, a shipment of a lifesaving vaccine. IoT data loggers connect to the Cloud and send push notifications to logistics handlers if the temperature of the environment is rising—possibly in time to keep a shipment of a rare and vital vaccine or medication from spoiling.
4. Smart Thermometers
Smart thermometers are another IoT healthcare technology driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. Medtech innovator Kinsa made headlines by collecting the human temperature data from its devices and publishing it anonymously. This created a database of aggregated temperature data to identify potential pandemic “hotspots.”
This is an example of healthcare IoT devices to produce data and results not only on an individual basis for personal health, but on a level of populations and public health. Smart thermometers are also capable of parsing aggregated temperature data based on age, demographics, and other risk factors.
5. Smart Inhalers
“Treatment adherence” has bedeviled healthcare providers for as long as the medical profession has existed. It breaks down like this—doctors can prescribe treatment until they are blue in the face, but if the patient procrastinates, skips doses, or otherwise fails to follow that treatment plan, positive outcomes will remain elusive.
The “blue-in-the-face” metaphor is apt when it comes to inhalers, prescribed to asthmatic patients to provide respiratory relief that can range from palliative to life-saving. Smart inhalers are a classic use case of the IoT to enable doctors to monitor their patients on an outpatient basis—not just data about their health status and vitals, but their adherence to treatment plans.
An IoT smart inhaler creates a record of every time the inhaler is used, uploading this data to the Cloud so that doctors can monitor the patient’s adherence to a regimen of inhalant medication.
Few technological sectors stand to benefit personal and public health like the Internet of Things. FitBits and other wearable devices were just the beginning. From treatment adherence to remote treatment delivery, from monitoring of crucial environments to patient vitals, “things” hold the key to a variety of better, healthier outcomes.
Marina Turea works as Content Manager at Digital Authority Partners