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Looking ahead: IoT to revolutionize healthcare

Prepare for the internet of things to take healthcare by storm. From wearables to remote monitoring and smart sensors and even medical device integration, IoT not only has the ability to keep patients healthy and safe, but also to improve the level of care physicians can offer. Most importantly, IoT enables early intervention, monitoring of patients’ and elderly people’s vitals post-hospitalization in the comfort of their homes and automatic reporting of events enabling efficient, cost effective ways of delivering healthcare.

Here are three ways IoT will revolutionize — and in some cases, is already revolutionizing — healthcare:

1. Wearables

Research has shown that the number of people who wear smartwatches is slowly growing. Gartner recently reported that worldwide wearable device sales grew 17% in 2017. The firm predicts that 2020 will be a watershed year in the development of the global technology industry, and that wearable device spending will exceed that of smartphones by $61.7 billion and will reach 477.7 million units.

IoT devices are by definition smart and connected. They come in variety of form factors, with optimized connectivity options and power consumption, and are targeted for specific applications. For healthcare applications, the sensors on the wearables not only provide information at predetermined intervals to the cloud platform to analyze and look for abnormal events (e.g., higher blood pressure, low oxygen saturation, low/high heart rate, high glucose, etc.) that can trigger medical attention, but also provide feedback if a certain medication is effective, if sleep quality is linked to bad vitals or even signs of infectious diseases in a region.

While there will always be a need for blood tests, as wearable technology becomes more advanced and accurate, more healthcare measurements can be done via this type of technology and will shift from intrusive to non-intrusive forms.

2. External sensors

Technology has come a long way. Small wearables — smartwatches, rings and patches, for example — can be accessed in low-power mode and the battery can last for a few years. Many can communicate raw data via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and even cellular connections. This becomes critical for patients with chronic illnesses and health conditions, largely eliminating their need for readmission into hospitals and doctors’ offices; they can now wear sensors to monitor their vitals from home and even alert their doctor when the data experiences an irregularity or cause for concern.

Today, wireless sensor-based systems gather medical data that was never before accessible. By combining sensors, microcontrollers, microprocessors and gateways where sensor data is further analyzed and sent to the cloud and then on to caregivers, a network of IoT devices can connect directly with each other to capture and share vital data.

3. Proactive and preventative care

Both wearables and sensors allow people to take control of their own healthcare and well-being. For patients who are sick or for those who are trying to prevent being sick, wearables and general external sensors can provide a certain amount of autonomy while still leaving the doctor in control of the actions that need to be taken. Specifically applicable to the elderly or those with dementia, wearables also have a GPS that can define safe zones in advance and can notify the proper parties to let them know that the person is in danger.

Additionally, information gathered from these IoT devices can be used not only by health providers, but also by insurance companies, hospitals, fitness centers and so forth to draw various conclusions. All of this is possible with data from millions of people in relatively short periods of time and at very little cost. Up until this point, we had to rely on forming patient pools to undertake various studies, mostly manually.

Traditionally, when people think of at-home healthcare, they think about blood pressure measurements and diabetes testing. But with new IoT technology, more and more can be done in the comfort of your own home. While there are still challenges to overcome (for instance, sensors need to communicate data and will need a nearby hub or hotspot; or if the device is Bluetooth-powered, it will need another device, like a phone), IoT is poised to improve the healthcare system and revolutionize the way we view health.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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