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The internet of things is slowly, but surely, changing our lives & healthcare is one area in which IoT can have a remarkable impact. The Internet of Things can make the lives of healthcare workers easier and safer, improve convenience for patients, reduce costs, and ultimately save lives.
So far, healthcare use cases have focused on asset tracking. For example, systems that allow nurses or other staff to find the nearest defibrillator quickly in an emergency. But things are starting to expand beyond that. Here are five really exciting use cases for IoT in healthcare.
At the time of writing (April 2020), we’re in the height of a global pandemic, but even in more normal times healthcare workers inevitably face a heightened risk for contagious disease.
At Cork University Hospital, an early warning system has been put into action to monitor staff constantly for elevated temperature. This warning system uses a sensor that identifies staff who are starting to develop symptoms. They can then be notified to stay home and rest. In the future, sensors might also look for other symptoms, such as excessive coughing. This kind of monitoring can help ensure that healthcare workers do not spread disease through the hospital and allow them to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others. This early warning system was developed by Davra partners 8West.
One in twenty patients has been impacted by a preventable medical error. And the largest share? Medication errors. When administering drugs, a simple typo can kill. Hospitals have layers of protection to keep this from happening. Nurses, for example, are trained to question doctors when something does not look right. Then there’s the other side of things; patients who forget to take their medication or family members who forget to ensure that their dependents take it.
However, technology can also help. Here are a few things that the use of IoT in healthcare can do to help reduce medication errors:
• Send reminders to patients or caregivers to make sure they take their medication on time.
• Smart pill bottles tell patients when they were last opened as a further reminder.
• Doctors can monitor doses and outcomes continuously.
• Internal trackers may link to a smart patch, allowing for constant adjustment of dosage. Patients will have an app on their phone that lets them monitor this themselves, so they can see how lifestyle choices impact the amount of medication they need.
In hospitals, automated medication dispensers have been seen to reduce errors by as much as 31%. Staff training and compliance is, of course, vital. Nurses, in particular, need to be part of the system. But as technology improves, errors will reduce further.
A nurse doing their rounds has to check every patient, but they still miss stuff; they can only be in one place at once. Remote monitoring does not replace the role of the nurse, but rather complements it. There are a number of remote monitoring technologies starting to become available thanks to IoT in healthcare, and some of the most popular include:
• Smart beds that alert a nurse if the patient sits up, tries to get out of bed or falls out of bed. These beds may, for example, be used to inform medical personnel when an unconscious patient wakes up.
• Outpatients can be sent home with wearables that monitor their vital signs and alert doctors if anything changes.
• Wearables can send an alert to doctors or emergency services if the wearer falls.
• Sleep studies can be done in the person’s own home rather than a lab, often resulting in more accurate results.
Remote monitoring is particularly valuable for patients with chronic illness and doctors treating them. It could also be used to improve care in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where staff who might not be as well trained often have to deal with multiple illnesses. Staff can use remote monitoring to guide them in their decisions of when to call a doctor.
People are moving away from trusting their doctor passively and wanting to take more and more control over their own health. Mobile health apps have been stepping into this void for a while. Early wearable trackers, for example, only recorded the number of steps taken in the day. Current ones monitor many more things, including:
• Heart rate.
• Sleep patterns.
• How long you’ve been sedentary (with a reminder to get up and move).
• The number of stairs you have climbed.
• How many calories you have burned.
• The specific activity you’re engaged in.
Although not all scientists like these trackers, they are only becoming more sophisticated over time. However, there are now even more health apps, and the FDA now has an approval process for them. Some apps are specific for chronic conditions, such as diabetes.
Doctors are also using mobile health apps and their phone or tablet. It’s very common to see a doctor walk into an exam room with a tablet in one hand. Smartphones can now help conduct certain medical exams. In 2017, Basil Leaf Technologies won an X-Prize for an iPad app with non-invasive sensors that’s seen as the first “medical tricorder.” The system, called DxtER, can diagnose 13 common diseases including anemia and pneumonia, although we’re still a long way from automated diagnosis of everything.
Having enough healthcare workers is a concern, especially in rural areas. Increased IoT healthcare automation can reduce the number of staff needed by taking over tedious and routine tasks. Medical applications, for example, can handle all of the analysis needed to monitor a health condition. Collecting data automatically reduces diagnostic errors.
There are some even more exciting systems being created:
• Mt. Sinai in New York City now has an AI that has slashed wait times by 50% for ER patients who need to be admitted.
• Robots are being used to carry out routine manual tasks such as medication and food delivery.
• Electronic medical records are being pulled into an integrated workflow. Many medical errors occur when patients are transferred, for example from the ICU to a regular ward.
• Improved tracking and ordering of supplies and prescriptions. Electronic health records have slowed the process own; automation can speed it back up.
• Smarter billing allowing for improved accuracy and speed.
IoT has a lot of promise for healthcare. It promises to reduce errors, save money, free up healthcare workers to do complicated tasks and offer the necessary human touch, and allow for people to make fewer physical visits to the doctor. Especially given the global situation in 2020, the internet of things is going to transform healthcare. Find out more from the experts in Davra by getting in touch!
Brian McGlynn, Davra, COO
Download Your Free IoT in Healthcare Use Cases eBook
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