A patient’s medical device sends an alert to his physician that he has missed his medication. Another patient’s chest X-ray is shared in real time for caregiver collaboration.
And yet another patient’s implanted device monitors symptoms and delivers a corrective stimulus, alerting the doctor simultaneously.
This is the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).
Also known as healthcare IoT, the Internet of Medical Things comprises the medical devices and applications connected to healthcare IT systems via the Web. Wi-Fi enabled devices facilitate machine-to-machine communication and link to cloud platforms for data storage.
IoMT includes wearable devices, remote patient monitoring, sensor-enabled hospital beds and infusion pumps, medication-tracking systems, medical supply and equipment inventory tracking, and more. As technology improves at breakneck speed, and more consumer devices include near field communication (NFC) – a standard for wireless connectivity – and radio frequency identification (RFID), the applications for IoMT continue to expand, according to TechTarget.com.
About 4.5 billion IoMT devices existed in 2015, with the number projected to grow to between 20 and 30 billion devices by 2020, according to a Frost & Sullivan study. The healthcare needs of the burgeoning over-65 population are driving the market for IoMT, according to TechNewsWorld.com, with medical devices at the forefront of the nascent field.
There are smart watches that monitor heart rates and track movement. Contact lenses that read glucose levels. Biometric stamps that report the wearer’s vitals. And necklaces that analyze chewing and swallowing – and alert the wearer when they’ve had too many carbohydrates. This is the direction of IoMT technology, both increasing patient awareness and patient/physician connections, while also reducing the amount of time and thought a patient must give to their condition.
Effects of IoMT on Healthcare
Connected devices enabled by the IoMT can improve diagnoses while allowing data collection for analytics, a win-win for the patient, and patients that benefit from the data down the road. According to the Frost & Sullivan study, almost 60% of healthcare providers are utilizing IoMT devices – and they’re reporting improved patient care.
Some benefits to providers and patients:
- Objective Reporting – A machine that records and reports actual data is much more reliable than a patient’s subjective self-reporting.
- Remote Monitoring – Data tracking reports patient compliance, again removing the unreliability of a subjective patient’s self-reporting.
- Automation – Decrease human error and fraudulent reporting.
- Precision Medicine – Targeted stimulation designed for an individual patient while decreasing negative side effects.
Wearable healthcare devices and and healthcare apps let patients and healthcare professionals stay connected. They also can make the process more efficient for healthcare workers, who may be juggling a multitude of patients. Streamlining processes and increasing efficiency lessen the workload for health workers while increasing the level of care they can provide.
Potential Pitfalls of IoMT
One downside related to IoMT is the “high barrier of entry to truly disrupt the healthcare industry and to change the way disease is treated,” according to Will Rosellini, CEO of Nexeon MedSystems, a bioelectronics firm. With a patient population that “desperately” needs change, he says, there is still a balance to be had with introducing innovative new products and ensuring regulatory compliance for safety.
A patient’s physical security is a major concern, but the security of their data is a close second. With cloud-based data collection and analytics, cybersecurity is an issue that must be continually addressed to keep sensitive information out of the hands of hackers. The theft of protected health information can be devastating to patients and manufacturers, including fines and possible criminal charges for not complying with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
About 70% of IoT devices were vulnerable to cyberattacks in 2014, according to TechNewsWorld.com. Administrative tool weaknesses and unsophisticated firmware updates were among the vulnerabilities cited.