5 Ways the Internet of Things Is Revolutionizing Healthcare

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While most of us are familiar with fitness trackers and other commonplace smart devices, true innovation is sitting (mostly unnoticed by the ordinary consumer) where the Internet of Things (IoT) and healthcare meet.

Healthcare has a lot to gain from the wearable and smart device industry — and in turn, it might be the medical industry that ensures the success of these devices. From Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids to robotic caretakers, there are some IoT healthcare innovations we would have relegated to science fiction only a decade ago.

But the technology is here, and it’s more advanced than you may think. As a white paper by Freescale Semiconductor points out:

“The long-predicted IoT revolution in healthcare is already underway… The IoT plays a significant role in a broad range of healthcare applications, from managing chronic diseases at one end of the spectrum to preventing disease at the other.”

1. Precise Patient Tracking

Smart devices and wearables benefit both patients and doctors. Doctors are using various medical apps to track their patients’ ongoing health concerns. Meanwhile, patients are able to receive recommendations and new advice as their treatment plan progresses.

This kind of tracking can take place in a hospital setting, but also at home. In some cases, the technology is a literal lifesaver. As early as 2009 there were cases where patients were saved thanks to their Wi-Fi-enabled pacemaker, as documented in an article in the journalEurospace, which states:

“A 66-year-old patient with a Medtronic Concerto CRT-D for primary prevention of sudden death phoned the clinic complaining of fatigue since two days, without any malaise or ICD shocks. Remote interrogation of the device . . . showed slow irregular VT (Ventricular Tachycardia).”

Doctors immediately told the patient to go to the clinic. Only 15 minutes after arriving, the patient collapsed from a heart attack. Luckily, doctors were ready and able to help. Other patients with heart disease continue to benefit from the technology, which is becoming more advanced every day.

2. Smarter Health Aids

Not all smart medical devices are about saving lives. Some are about making the lives of patients, especially those with chronic illness or disabilities, easier.

Diabetes is one condition that inspires the development of many smart healthcare devices. These connected devices don’t only help patients monitor their condition, but also help with preventative healthcare.

iHealth Smart, for example, is a Bluetooth-enabled device that helps users track their glucose levels. It comes with a paired app to help them understand and keep track of the data.

ihealth-smart

Connected versions of everyday items also play role. Siren Smart Socks, for example, use temperature monitoring to help prevent foot ulcers — a complication many diabetic patients face. The socks send this data to a companion app, which will notify users as to whether they should do a visual foot check, change their shores, reduce physical activity or visit a doctor.

Some connected healthcare devices add an element of convenience to patients’ lives. This is the aim of the Widex COM-DEX, a Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid that users can adjust and customize with an app.

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This connection with the user’s phone also brings other benefits, such as the ability to take calls or listen to music through the hearing aid.

“I chose a smart hearing aid mainly because of its size and style. I also liked the fact that I could control it from my phone via the COM-DEX,” a user of the device, Amy Bell, told MakeUseOf.

Bell requires a hearing aid in one ear due to a diving accident that damaged her cochlear hair cells. This makes her sensitive to high-pitched noises, while she cannot properly hear low or bass tones.

“With the COM-DEX connected to my hearing aid and phone I’m able to hear phone calls through my hearing aid as well as play music. Bigger or older models don’t come with this feature,” she says.

3. Smart Surgery

Google Glass might be a commercial failure, but it found its niche by providing augmented reality (AR) glasses for factory workers.

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But factories aren’t the only places using this technology. In fact, AR-assisted surgery is already a reality.

Other companies are also creating augmented reality tools for surgery, such as Augmedics. The company is developing an AR headset dubbed The Vizor, which will allow doctors to view a patient’s CT scan during surgery.

Augmedics believes that using AR headsets could allow for minimally invasive spinal surgery because the technology reduces the need for large incisions.

Meanwhile, another company called Scopis has combined the Microsoft HoloLens with their surgery navigation technology. By doing this, they have created a system that provides AR guidance for surgeons on numerous procedures.

scopis-mixed-reality

“Scopis’ Holographic Navigation Platform is a universal solution that offers specific advantages for spinal surgeries and can also be applied in the many other areas where the highest levels of precision and speed are critical . . . In neurosurgery, for example, brain tumors could be located faster and with higher accuracy.” — Brian Kosmecki, Scopis CEO

4. Preventative Healthcare and Early Detection

With connected devices comes a slew of data, allowing researchers to analyze trends and risks for patients. While it’s not a precise science yet, more companies are implementing data solutions that can help with preventative healthcare.

PwC has introduced a predictive engine named Bodylogical [No Longer Available] which processes patient data to help give health insights into potential health trends and problems in the future. Consumer devices can then use the engine to provide users with possible impacts of their decisions on their health.

“[Using health data from wearables, connected health devices, or other consumer data sources] Bodylogical can visualize how a person’s present choices — both positive and negative — will personally impact them. It can show people how to achieve greater results with the least amount of effort. Or it can help individuals focus on the one or two specific things that can deliver the most improvement.” — PwC

This includes sending users notifications on their smartphones to remind them of tasks or interventions.

Meanwhile, connected devices are also powerful tools for the early detection of diseases and health issues. Cyrcadia Health, for example, has a device called the iTBra, that assists in the early detection of breast cancer.

itbra smart
Image Credit: Cyrcadia Health

The smart breast patches use predictive analytics software and algorithms to identify potential abnormalities in breast tissue. This data is sent to Cyrcadia Health for analysis, with results sent to the user and their doctors.

5. Robotic Healthcare Assistants

Remember those science fiction scenarios we mentioned? Well, this new technology is definitely something you might expect from a futuristic novel. However, robotic healthcare assistants already exist.

Smart sensors are well-known as a way that the elderly can maintain independence in their homes. But IBM and Rice University are taking it a step further with the Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (IBM MERA). The technology is still in its early stages, but a prototype was up and running by the end of 2016.

healthcare-robot
Image Credit: Jack Plunkett/IBM

“IBM MERA will be used to help study innovative ways of measuring an individual’s vital signs, such as heart rate, heart rate variability and respiratory rate; answer basic health-related questions; and, determine if an individual has fallen by reading the results of an accelerometer.” — IBM

Research by PwC Global has noted that AI and robots are playing an increasingly important role in the healthcare sector. More surprisingly, the firm also found that the public are ready to accept these advances. Their survey revealed that consumers around the world are ready to engage with new technology designed to enable health and wellness.

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