You’re probably familiar with the Internet of Things—the growing number of super-connected devices that basically “talk” to each other. It includes smart speakers, connected cameras, doorbells, and thermostats, among other things. Now, get ready for the next big wave: the Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT. Deloitte, in fact, predicts the global IoMT device market’s value will reach $158 billion by 2022.
Here are some ways the IoMT is already changing health care:
1. Facilitating Better Management of Chronic Conditions
In the United States alone, 6 in 10 adults have a chronic disease. In-person appointments between providers and patients are essential for managing many of those ailments, but changes can nonetheless occur between face-to-face visits that require prompt intervention. A 2016 study found that wearable devices associated with the IoMT improve chronic disease management by letting physicians keep tabs on things like vital signs and activity levels.
Many patients will proactively look at metrics that are measured by wearable technologies and see how lifestyle changes contribute to better health. The length of hospital stays could go down, or providers could get prompt feedback about how one medication affects a patient versus another.
2. The IoMT Boosts Patient-Provider Engagement
People in the health care industry know that poor patient engagement with doctors, nurses, and other practitioners can lead to confusion among patients and their caregivers, and even increase the likelihood of readmission to a hospital or another medical facility.
The IoMT can bridge the gap between patients and providers by allowing a physician to provide a patient with personalized information about medications, discharge instructions or risk reduction, such as by giving a patient who had a recent fall information to prevent future mishaps.
A company called GetWellNetwork hopes to improve engagement levels. The company wants to achieve that through technologies it calls “precision engagement” — which basically uses data-driven approaches to connect with patients and give them the right information at the right time based on their willingness or ability to engage.
One eldercare facility used GetWellNetwork’s personalized videos with inpatients to help with medication education. Patients could use gadgets such as standard smart TVs or tablets to learn things such as whether to take a medication with food and how often to do it, and the content they were given varied depending on their conditions and other needs. From the tablets, patients could also request that medicines be delivered directly to their hospital rooms—reducing the need to visit pharmacies.
In another use of the company’s technologies with patients diagnosed with heart failure, users could access more than 50 “care pathways “ — personalized and interactive patient education curriculums — by going to a medical app. The information people received provided clarification about a person’s condition. The devices distributed health surveys and gave recommendations when the answers suggested the need for medical attention.
IoMT tools like the ones offered by GetWellNetwork don’t replace the need for in-person engagement. But they give providers resources to make the most of time with patients and educate them in ways that increase confidence and patient outcomes.
3. Cutting Down on Unnecessary Supply Costs
With the rise of IoMT, hospitals now have a 360-degree, real-time view into their base of supplies. This is no small matter: hospitals buy 10-20% more portable equipment than needed. Thanks to IoMT, those excessive purchases are no longer necessary. Hospital workers can instead attach tracking tags to many connected devices or medicine containers and instantly see the location and supply levels.
The IoMT can save equipment costs in another way. Some connected medical equipment offers internal metrics that tells when a device isn’t working normally. Having that information allows hospital workers to quickly alert superiors about the malfunction so a problem gets fixed before the issue ruins a gadget beyond repair.
4. Using Tech to Manage Staffing Needs
The number of people working in U.S. health care is projected to expand for one key reason: the growing aging population’s expanding health care needs.
IoMT can help health businesses manage staffing needs, in some cases by replacing people, or enabling them to be redeployed. For example, some connected health gadgets allow health care providers to monitor the conditions of several patients at once, and receive instant alerts when situations worsen. Then, hospitals and similar facilities can make better use of their people by enabling staff members to oversee patients while they handle other tasks.
5. Improving Success Rates in Substance Use Programs
Substance abuse destroys many lives. But the IoMT opens more possibilities for people to successfully recover outside treatment centers. For example, some people in recovery use apps that serve as treatment diaries. Some of those apps also calculate “impulse control,” which is a person’s ability to resist urges to engage in behavior that may be harmful to the person or otherwise counterproductive to recovery.
People may share the data with friends and family members, who could intervene if they seem likely to use a substance again.
A 2017 study assessed the usefulness of a remote monitoring system for measuring blood alcohol content. The research concluded that using the monitor for at least 12 months during and after treatment was a “clinically viable deterrent to relapse” for alcohol-use disorders.
Persistent bed shortages at many inpatient addiction treatment services mean that even when patients might need those options, they have no choice but to enroll in outpatient programs. For example, Washington, D.C., has only one remaining inpatient facility for uninsured patients or those on D.C. Medicaid. And that one is running out of space.
Recruitment is also underway to find subjects for a study involving remote monitoring for patients going through alcohol detox. Providers receive heart rate and blood pressure readings, allowing them to monitor those vitals from a distance.
So it’s likely the IoMT could improve outpatient substance abuse monitoring for patients that need it. Then success rates could go up even if people recover from addiction outside of inpatient facilities.
The IoMT is disrupting many aspects of health care. But it will help medical professionals and institutions work more efficiently – and ultimately save lives.
Kayla Matthews writes about technology, cybersecurity and big data for publications like VentureBeat, The Daily Dot, and The Week.