Healthcare industries are continually innovating. The need to provide better care, serve broader populations, and generate more income means that new inventions and ideas are always being put into action. Lately, though, some of the most significant changes we’ve begun to see concern the Internet of Things and its nearly countless potential applications in these industries.
The term “IoT” is thrown around a lot these days. Just as a refresher, though, it is meant to define a vast network of devices that are connected via wireless networks. The Internet of Things can be defined as “objects that ‘talk’ to each other,” and that might ultimately be the best way to think of it. These are technologies that pass information back and forth automatically, and in some cases, constantly.
In healthcare, as mentioned, there are potentially countless applications for a network like this for hospitals, patients, and physicians alike. These applications include lessening treatment costs and enhancing patient care and treatment, leading to the rise of what we know now as medical IoT.
Here are some of the most noteworthy concrete applications of the IoT in healthcare.
Health Tracking – The idea of tracking patient health through IoT-connected devices and sensors has perhaps the broadest implications of any application we’re discussing here. Essentially, anything from an Apple Watch to an ingestible sensor can now track various aspects of an individual’s health. The information can be fed into an app or even back to a hospital system, which is compiled and maintained to provide a more comprehensive picture of the individual’s health.
Connected Implants – With the influence of 3D printing now growing, this technology is beginning to work with materials that are useful for biocompatible applications — which, in some cases, means the creation of new medical implants. In some cases, these can be new versions of ordinary surgical implants; they may even include artificial organs in the near future. In any of these cases, though, the implants can be outfitted with IoT compatibility, such that they can communicate any relevant information about their status or performance.
Hospital Activity & Resource Management – Not all healthcare IoT applications have to do with direct patient care. In some cases, actual medical facilities are being outfitted with IoT-connected sensors used to track activity and manage resources. This may mean making it immediately apparent where various machines (like defibrillators) are at all times; it can mean logging doctor and nurse activity and tracking their locations. It may even involve monitoring the inventory for vital supplies such as donor blood or insulin.
Scaled-Down Electronics – Much of what we’re talking about in this piece involves brand new electronic devices — many of which need to be very small and uniquely shaped in order to work. These devices represent innovations unto themselves, but the scaled-down electronics within them are perhaps the real breakthroughs. Most of us have a general idea of what a printed circuit board looks like in a standard electronic device. However, today’s emerging devices are made with rigid-flex PCB technology, which allows for more lightweight and durable electronics. This innovation has helped developers create smaller and more complex devices without sacrificing reliability and computing efficiency — fitting them into smaller and smaller products like wearables and medical devices.
Implants – We discussed implants above, but we should point out that innovations in this space go well beyond 3D-printed surgical implants. In some cases, for instance, connected devices are actually being designed that can be implanted to monitor things like blood sugar levels regularly. In other cases, there are even implant medicine dispensers being designed to release medicine into a patient at necessary intervals and send alerts when refills are needed.
5G – 5G is not an innovation that is unique to healthcare. However, we previously wrote about 5G benefits in healthcare and made it clear that these advanced wireless networks will help to enable and expand the IoT. The piece identified the ability to deal with telehealth data, increased patient engagement, and monitoring, and virtual surgeries among the likely benefits — all of which factor into the broader IoT discussion. Basically, more advanced connectivity will allow the innumerable sensors, devices, and systems touched on above to communicate more reliably.
Looking ahead to the future, the ideas above illustrate how IoT innovations will impact (and improve) healthcare industries. At the same time, though, we should also expect to encounter meaningful evolutions of these technologies that we don’t necessarily see coming!