The IoT is the revolution that can improve healthcare
Recently I had to go to hospital for an MRI scan on my ankle. At the desk in the radiology department, a receptionist asked me if I had my latest letter of correspondence. I didn’t, so couldn’t give her my hospital number. Her colleague leaned over and said, “he needs the NHS number not the hospital number” and a brief discussion took place with the attention of two staff and no conclusion reached. Then the lab assistant forgot to check back on me after I’d changed, resulting in a needless half hour wait before seeing the radiologist.
While the standard of care in the UK’s health service is exceptional, the administration that facilitates it must change. Every step of my experience would have improved in an IoT-enabled healthcare system.
There’s no industry more important than healthcare that could do with an IoT-driven overhaul. First, because the system in many countries is so fragmented, and second because the health of a nation fuels everything, economically and socially for both companies and individuals, providers and recipients. My recent experience happens countless times all over the world, every day. I’m lucky enough to have access to an MRI scanner, but wherever you are the Internet of Things can exact massive change from top to bottom. Here’s how:
Patient autonomy: A phrase often used as a euphemism for cost cutting, or forcing the burden of diagnosis onto the individual from the clinician. There’s much more to it than that. While there is a lot of sense encouraging the general public to consider whether they need that trip to the ER if they have a headache, or booking a GP appointment for a sore throat, an extra layer of initial questioning through a healthcare app could reduce staff workload and admin. It can also empower you to take control of your own wellbeing in a positive way, supported by a trusted institution such as the NHS.
Remote monitoring: Patient autonomy is possible thanks to remote monitoring using healthcare apps integrated with your smartphone or wearable’s biometric capabilities, and the savings, both financially and timewise, are vast. On top of all this, you can save lives too. Your smart patch or lenses could detect whether you’ve taken your daily medication and trigger a notification or prompt a call from a health professional, depending on the seriousness of the condition. Or, an installed medication dispenser linked to a support team could detect whether you had your daily dose, to the same effect. Your wearable could detect early signs of fatal diseases such as cancer. It’s estimated that the survival rate for eight of the most common cancers is three times higher through early diagnosis – and this is with today’s technology, not tomorrow’s.
Remote monitoring will also free up hospital beds, saving money on costly accommodation workarounds when hospitals get overloaded with more serious cases. Earlier discharge will actually result in extended care, as patients could be discharged with a monitor supplied by the hospital that provides contact details and advice for the coming period of rehabilitation about how to return to normal life as quickly as possible.
Smart equipment: Beds that can detect if they’re occupied and can raise and lower themselves if the patient needs to change position. Rooms that change the lighting and temperature based on patient data and time of day. Auto check-in for outpatients, with no need to fill in forms again and again. GPS tracking of patients within hospitals so they don’t miss their appointments when called. The list could go on.
The improvements here are as much focused on health workers as they are patients. Staff workflow could be completely revolutionised for the better through adapting to the Internet of Things. You would have staff performing at their best, patients having a better healthcare experience, all within a healthier world. But as always, there are barriers to adoption – in this case in two main areas:
Data security: If health is one of the most important things in people’s lives, then security of health data is just as important. Often authorities don’t help themselves, and for many the march of health tech is a daunting proposition without the comfort of a human face. But as the IoT progresses so does cybersecurity, and if an open and inclusive dialogue on such issues continues, the IoT has the best chance of gaining the public’s trust.
Interoperability: The biggest issue to overcome. Legacy systems, a disparate workforce, a sprawling administration and a tech strategy yet to be unified. Solving these problems are the key to embedding IoT in healthcare industry. It will happen, the only difference is when, and that will be determined by whether we solve the majority of interoperability problems.
There are opportunities abound to make positive changes in healthcare through IoT technology. It’s an exciting future, and the Internet of Things could be an important part of creating a healthier, longer-living society.
Author: Jon Kennard
(c) iStock: Mutlu Kurtbas