Of all the applications for the IoT and Industrial IoT, few are as meaningful as the Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT. The benefits of connected systems are well-documented and proven to improve efficiencies across nearly every industry, with massive deployments coming online connecting endpoints that generate blue oceans of data that can be used to improve products, performance and profitability.
We’re able to manufacture better cars with more precision, connect those cars with services that improve safety and convenience, help ensure those cars make their way through Smart Cities allowing drivers and the driven to get from point A to point B faster, and to power those cars at charging stations which are connected on a more secure and sustainable energy grid.
Smarter cars and transportation systems, power grids and water systems, environmental monitoring and management systems, precision agriculture and food safety systems are all contributing to better operations. The collection of data when analyzed leads to insights that produces increasingly better products and services, contributing to a stronger economy with quality jobs and in a more equitable world, educational opportunities that enable us to produce the innovators and engineers who will no doubt create the next level of connected life.
Life – isn’t that the point?
The US and every other country in the world are continuing to struggle with ways to serve growing and aging populations with healthcare services that improve the quality of life, even as life expectancies are extending.
Healthcare and insurance leaders, elected and government officials, scientists, educators, entrepreneurs and the biggest of big enterprise organizations are exploring how to improve traditional delivery systems and products, including transforming medical centers, insurance coverage, single payer plans, as well as drugs, alternative medicines, wellness programs and more to ensure we are able to provide quality care at affordable prices.
Technology is a critical part of this, and we’ve seen dramatic progress in telehealth and telemedicine, with virtual visits now being paid for by insurance companies and programs including Medicare and Medicaid in the US (at dramatically lower rates than in-person clinical visits).
We’ve seen dramatic improvements in clinical trials using software and data analytics, and we’ve seen breakthroughs in personalized medicine using genetic markers, once again leveraging data and data science to predict and prevent illness before it becomes expensive to treat advanced cancer or diabetes, or before lives are simply cut short.
Building on this positive momentum, we are now crossing the threshold into the world of the IoMT as health monitors are increasingly connected to secure data extraction, storage, analytics and AI systems, helping improve individual patients’ chances to live happier, longer lives, while also enriching massive data sets. This data, with the patient’s approval and collected and analyzed in the aggregate, inform studies and product evolutions, supporting the science of medicine and innovations in elevating the performance and wellness of the human body.
Vitals-tracking wearables, medication adherence tools, portable diagnostic devices, personal emergency response systems, and devices associated with aftercare and chronic care are only a few of the innovations emerging as part of the fast growing IoMT.
What is the IoMT exactly?
At the highest levels, it is the connected infrastructure of medical devices and software applications that are networked to interact with healthcare IT systems, with a market size one analyst pegged at nearly $137 billion in 2021.
IoMT solutions help monitor, inform and notify the patients themselves, their caregivers, their physicians, nurses and specialists, using real time data to identify issues before they become critical or to allow for earlier intervention.
Take, for example, a heart pump that beats for months or years but may suddenly malfunction; with the proper policy set, notifications can be sent to the patient’s mobile device, to their family, to their care team, and even to a centralized monitoring service center as solutions like these scale.
While there are many technical, security, privacy and ethical issues to be hammered out, with the appropriate attention paid to the quality development, testing and implementation of solutions like an embedded, connected heart pump, these solutions which today are still nascent, can be scaled to create “silicon economics” making such inventions accessible to all.
What are the benefits?
Articulating each solution and its related benefits requires a book length dissertation, and we may need to write one someday. Here’s a short list to inspire thinking:
- Remote monitoring: real-time data collection giving authorized care teams access to patient records immediately after being alerted during emergency situations, or during the normal course of business (“smart beds” in hospitals are a great example of how mundane tasks can be covered including room temperature, patient position, wet/dry status, and more).
- Operational automation: using AI in connected devices can decrease human error, and improve reporting across multiple hospitals, with workflows designed to create accurate data associated with each patient – reducing the overall costs of care while providing more reliable information.
- Objective reporting: by capturing data from the human body, diagnosis and treatment options can be more successfully determined when there is less reliance on subjective data, coming from patients who may not be understanding or interpreting symptoms correctly.
- Precision medicine: personalized for each individual, but in a cost-effective manner, this can be used across nearly every treatment, including the most complex and expensive for the rarest of conditions (for example cancer treatment effectiveness analysis). This also includes support of genome sequencing, genetic screenings and more; the IoMT brings a new level of data-driven precision to precision medicine.
Preventative care programs have proven for decades that it is better to diagnose and treat early, as chronic and growing conditions including the diabetes epidemic can be most costly – financially and emotionally, as people with diabetes left untreated can lose limbs and even their lives.
For urban areas where diabetes is occurring at higher than average rates, the IoMT can include non-invasive solutions being rolled out in the world of population health.
We are only now at the threshold of cities using IoT-based solutions to understand where health risks reside in cities, whether air pollution, water contamination, airborne illnesses, food safety regulations and compliance, air temperature and humidity in public spaces and public housing and throughout urban areas.
The natural benefits are promising: reduce the costs of care by getting out in front of public health risks, reducing the costs of operations required to monitor and manage the environment, all while improving the quality and longevity of life.
For example, researchers at MIT’s Senseable City Lab found through their “Underworlds” project opportunities to analyze sewage for signs of diseases and poor health.
Testing can also uncover things like markers for diabetes and obesity, which are major public health issues in many U.S. cities. Tracking those factors could help in evaluating government policies, like New York City’s law restricting the size of high sugar drinks. And while policies like this are heavily debated as political in nature, the existence of hard data can transform perceived “agendas” into fact-based responses to very real conditions.
With the price reduction of sensors and the rapid evolution of software and security measures addressing concerns that connected cities can be hacked, making the business case for rolling out population health solutions has become a lot easier.
Innovators in public health who are responsible for ensuring regulations and guidelines are being followed, for example in the food safety area, are rolling out sensors connected to networks that can determine if the coolers on food trucks are at the right, safe temperature.
The applications for improving public and population health using sensors in smart cities makes those cities not only healthier – but safer – and ultimately less expensive to operate. These opportunities are worth pursuing together, as the need for cooperation, integration and interoperability will be vital to optimizing small then more substantial investments in the future.
The IoMT extends from prevention to detection to monitoring and intervention.
With secure, scalable and intelligent solutions, IoMT data can be harnessed to create meaningful and actionable systems that can extend to any number of qualified “subscribers” – from one patient to millions of people.
This will take investment not only financially but investment in ensuring public policies, personal privacy and overall ethics and integrity are solidly designed and adhered to – but the rewards will be great and meaningful for years – decades – even centuries to come.