The proliferation of cloud-based technologies along with the fact that data-tracking sensors are becoming smaller and more affordable have paved the way for industries to take advantage of the benefits of the Internet of Things. There is a growing trend of health organizations incorporating networks of connected devices in order to lower medical costs and increase efficiency of care. The ability to more accurately monitor patients who receive remote medical care also offers disabled individuals greater opportunities for independence outside of care facilities.
Home automation technologies use a variety of connected cameras and sensors to track and relay information to a user’s smartphone or other interface. According to one report, the global market for connected home devices was valued at USD 58.4 billion in 2014 and is expected to rise to nearly USD 410 billion by 2022. This includes technologies that will give people the ability to lock and unlock their doors and activate or deactivate alarm systems. They can also adjust the lighting for particular moods and better energy efficiency, turn appliances on or off, order groceries and supplies, and regulate temperatures throughout the home. All of these features can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.
While being able to dim your lights, lock your doors, and adjust the thermostat using voice commands or a simple interface on your smartphone may seem like convenient novelties to some, for disabled individuals these can be essential to maintaining a safe, healthy, enjoyable home life. For example, a quadriplegic who cannot physically open their front door could speak into their smartphone and the door would automatically open. They could also create a variety of profiles that change the lighting and turn on specific devices once they’ve entered the house, making possible what otherwise would have required a caregiver’s constant assistance.
As another example, a person with little to no vision could use appliances throughout their home with greater ease, and a deaf person could receive security alerts about disturbances they might not have noticed on their own. And while these are helpful for people who are disabled, there is no need to be completely cut off from outside assistance as these devices can also be used to alert caregivers and family members of any issues that may need their attention.
Traditional doctor-patient relationships can be sporadic, often addressing health concerns only after something has gone wrong. And because medical professionals rarely get real insights into a patient’s daily habits, it can be difficult to provide the most appropriate solutions to a medical concern. However, IoT-enabled devices in the healthcare industry have the potential to create more detailed relationships between patients and caregivers and ensure proper, prompt treatment.
Nurses can help enact new IoT processes in care facilities as well as in patients’ homes by identifying each patient’s needs, matching their conditions with the appropriate technologies, and educating patients on how to use these IoT-enabled devices. As this trend continues to grow, it will allow many people to live more independently, while offering real-time updates to professionals responsible for monitoring patients.
Examples of IoT technologies in the healthcare industry include glucose monitors that track blood sugar levels continuously, remote vital signs sensors, radio-frequency identification tags that allow medical professionals to track patients and medical equipment, and smart pillboxes that monitor patient adherence to treatment schedules and create reminders for patients who may forget to take their medication.
Telehealth options, such as phone calls, text messages, and video conferencing allow medical professionals to use this information to offer their patients feedback and recommendations. This enables medical professionals to catch problems early on, placing a greater focus on preventive care rather than the reactive care someone might receive if they come to a hospital after experiencing a complication with their condition. This can lower medical costs by reducing the need for emergency care as well as reducing the frequency and length of hospital visits.
Over time, the data collected from these devices can be used to track patterns, inform decision making, and enable medical professionals to create more efficient processes and treatment strategies for patients.
Of course, the sensitive materials contained within a care facility’s medical records will require a greater level of security from hackers and other IT breaches. If not properly protected, hackers could gain access to personal information that could be used for extortion. Ransomware attacks have already affected some hospitals, which demonstrates the potential for hackers to encrypt data related to appointments or medical records. Along with this danger, a data wiper like NotPetya could simply erase a network of medical information, leading to major disruptions in treatment schedules and possibly causing serious harm to patients.
Potential security risks for smart home connections include a hacker’s ability to determine whether anyone is home, unlock a person’s front door, disable their security system, or control appliances, including camera-enabled devices which could be used to spy on people in their homes. Because these technologies are relatively new, built-in security features aren’t always a priority. It doesn’t help that some users don’t update their passwords to these devices as often as they should, making it easier for hackers to take advantage of the technology.
It’s likely we’ll see IoT-enabled devices continue to expand into different areas of our lives, improving healthcare and accessibility to our homes. Soon, every device in our homes and businesses might be connected in order to predict our behavior and streamline our daily tasks. For now, as these technologies continue to gain momentum and we attempt to solve security issues, it is important to note the practical uses for healthcare professionals and the freedom these tools offer disabled individuals.