We are used to internet functionality on our computers and phones. However, the Internet of Things (IoT) takes connectivity to the next level.
Offering wired and wireless data transfer to and from previously unconnected objects around us, such as clothes, cars and domestic appliances, it changes the way we interact with the physical world. Finance, leisure and transport are just three areas that are using IoT to drive revolutionary change, but perhaps the most important, certainly the most life-changing, is the incorporation of IoT into healthcare.
This is vitally important as, in the West, spiralling healthcare costs, an ageing population and lifestyle diseases are putting healthcare systems under huge strain. Whilst, in other parts of the world, people’s quality of life and life expectancy are constrained by lack of access to medicine per se.
IoT in healthcare encapsulates a wide range of conventional point-of-care devices, including digital stethoscopes, monitors and scanners, but it also embraces devices previously thought of as consumer technologies such as smartphones, smartwatches and fitness trackers as new sources of data to improve on-site and remote clinical care.
This connected data can then be used by signal processing algorithms to extract the important clinical insights that medical teams need, whilst machine learning algorithms can compile and analyse that information into actionable diagnostic outputs.
The future of IoT is here
In the US, IoT is not the medical technology of the future. It’s already playing a major part in helping keep people healthy, in fact
- 60% of healthcare organisations use IoT devices on their premises.
- 85% of healthcare companies plan to introduce more IoT technology by 2019. (Source)
While America leads the way, the rest of the world is catching up fast. Here are some of the ways IoT is making healthcare provision more effective.
IoT in healthcare devices, such as wearables, allow healthcare professionals to monitor patients remotely and continually. This reduces the need for face-to-face treatments and hospital stays, which frees up time and beds, drastically reducing costs and increasing the effectiveness of interventions. IoT monitoring devices can also be used to track patients in remote areas, disaster zones or countries where healthcare has been difficult to provide at an affordable cost.
Here are just some of the conditions that can be monitored using IoT in healthcare devices:
- Diabetes – One of the most common diseases in the world and a growing problem in the West. Connected devices help patients monitor their blood glucose levels and tell them when it’s time to take their insulin. There are now wearables that can deliver insulin automatically if the patient’s readings deem it necessary.
- Blood pressure – Wearable devices monitor a patient’s pulse and blood pressure, letting them know if they need treatment to control their condition. Data can be shared with their doctors.
- Paralysis – Patients who can’t move require constant care and attention. However, connected devices can help them communicate and even carry out certain tasks themselves via connected devices, such as turning on lights or the TV.
- Conditions related to older people – IoT devices allow family and medical professionals to monitor people with dementia. A connected device can monitor their location , and can also serve as an emergency alarm. This brings peace of mind to both parties.
In the US, 64% of all IoT in healthcare is used for patient monitoring.
When a patient stays in hospital, IoT technology can help them there too. Smart beds help patients remain comfortable by adjusting their positions automatically. This movement reduces the risk of bedsores and frees up nurses’ time, whilst being more effectively able to monitor and care for a group of patients.
Building a database of patient information
Whether a patient is in a hospital or their home, if they are wearing a connected device such as an IoT watch, they are continually generating data about themselves. This data can be sent to medical professionals remotely and used to build a database of information, together with other clinical information such as scans and medical history, which can then be accessed by a patient via smartphone.
This database is known as an Electronic Health Record (EHR). This is extremely useful in the event of an emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke or accident. It allows doctors to act quickly and accurately, knowing the patient’s full medical history can be obtained directly from their smartphone.
IoT developers have set to work on bringing cutting-edge technology to the pharma world too. Wisepill is a connected pill box which reminds patients to take their medication in the event of them forgetting. AdhereTech has developed wireless pill bottles, designed to monitor the amount of medication a patient takes. If they forget, they receive an automated text or call to remind them. Proteus Discover has developed a sensor, around the size of a grain of rice, which attaches to a pill. The sensor sends a message to an app once the medicine reaches the patient’s stomach.
What are the challenges for IoT in Healthcare?
While this technology is undoubtedly improving the healthcare industry, it’s not perfect. There are challenges created by this new technology.
As with anything that involves the internet, security is a concern. In the US, 89% of healthcare organisations have been affected by IoT security breaches. As more devices connect to the network, the risk posed by security threats increases. Privacy is also an issue. While patients are happy that the data they are producing could save their lives one day, they may not want pharmaceutical companies to know their personal medical information. Issues could also arise around permissions for sharing medical records with family members.
Those concerns aside, the Internet of Things is transforming the healthcare industry – from preventative to acute care – for the better and we can see that it has massive potential to improve patient care, reduce costs and help give people the information they need about their health and wellbeing to manage their medical conditions and live longer and fuller lives.
Here are some companies we’re keeping an eye on in this sector.
Wisepill Technologies makes use of Smart Pill Box and Internet technologies to provide real-time medication management.
Centrak – https://www.centrak.com/intro-to-rtls/
(Real Time Location System) – helping hospitals keep track of patients, staff and key asset tracking. improving the operations and efficiencies of hospitals.
Feebris – http://feebris.com/
Technology that bridges the gap between communities and health systems.
Thanks to innovative companies such as these, the medtech and healthtech landscape is changing at lightning speed, with the pace of innovation driving valuations upwards. To stay up to date, make sure you download the Hampleton Partners Healthtech M&A Market Report today.
Jonathan Simnett, Healthtech Sector Principal
Jonathan has been involved in the technology business for over three decades, founding, managing and turning around businesses and helping management and their investors in fast-growth technology segments to grow, manage change, enter markets, transfer technologies, acquire, merge and sell.
He holds a Master’s degree in Science and Technology Policy from The University of Manchester, attended the Stanford Graduate School of Business and blogs on technology innovation, marketing and management at “The World According to WestFour”.