Medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds in just the past few decades. Today, we are on the brink of discovering cures for some of the world’s deadliest diseases, including AIDS and various cancers, and it is thanks in large part to the innovative technology developed by biomedical engineers.
Without tools and devices, medicine would hardly be better than it was in the Stone Age. Modern biomedical engineers have brought us electrocardiograms, pacemakers, ultrasound machines, CT scanners, prosthetics, and more. Considering the lightning speed of medical device development, it shouldn’t be long before we eliminate human error and rely entirely on machines for diagnosis and treatment.
Indeed, the Internet of Things is doing much to bring the concept of robot doctors to fruition. By training more professionals in the field of biomedical engineering online, we might be able to integrate the following technologies into medical centers around the world.
IoT in Hospitals and Ambulances
For years, health care providers have clamored for more connected health data — and it’s finally here. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, hospitals and care facilities are being forced into the future, and many are choosing to adopt emerging and established IoT tech. In fact, the number of IoT devices for medical use is becoming so expansive, that some experts have begun cataloguing them under a separate title, the Internet of Medical Things. Some available IoMT solutions include:
- Smart beds. Connected beds tell hospital operators where in the facility the beds are located as well as when they are occupied or free. This has helped reduce ER wait times in equipped hospitals by as much as four hours.
- Smart inventory. Beds aren’t the only health care assets being tracked; with IoT tech, hospitals can better manage medical supplies, including prescription medications.
- Smart health data. Patients equipped with IoT devices can provide more accurate health data. As long as patients are properly trained to use health trackers correctly, they can keep doctors informed of patient status outside the hospital.
- Patient badges. Real-time location systems (RTLS) track patients’ status and locations, informing loved ones so clinicians don’t have to.
- Smart equipment monitors. Equipment fails, but knowing when and how it will fail is critical to preventing it during a critical moment. Hardware/software solutions that monitor equipment health are important, too.
Ambulances, too, can be fitted with valuable IoT tech. Using connected technology, first responders can communicate more effectively with clinicians at hospitals, who can use health data collected in ambulances to make quick decisions regarding treatment. In cases of heart attack and stroke — which are some of the most common killers in the developed world and a common cause for calling an ambulance — the minutes shaved off by IoT communication could save millions of lives.
Robots are moving into health care in several ways. For example, robots could easily replace workers in repetitive, labor-intensive jobs in medical research labs or pharmacies, such as vial assay analysis, test tube movements, prescription filling, packaging, and transporting. However, these types of robots are hardly doctors.
Biomedical engineers in China have developed a robot designed to help doctors provide better diagnoses and thus begin proper treatment sooner. Named Xiao Yi, the robot scored better than most humans on China’s National Medical Licensing Examination, proving it has the knowledge to accurately provide health advice. Experts believe that robots like Xiao Yi could replace doctors in the diagnostic phase, especially in low-risk environments, like doctor’s offices. Yet, Xiao Yi isn’t perfect; not only is the robot slow and reliant on probabilities and programmed reasoning processes, but it cannot act in times of crisis. More brainpower earned through studying biomedical engineering online is necessary to apply more advanced robotics to medicine.
Robot doctors are just around the corner — but it could be a long leg to that corner. There are plenty of obstacles preventing hospitals from adopting the medical advancements in our grasp. For example, most health care facilities are collecting inordinate amounts of data from nearly every operation, from business administration to radiology, but often that data isn’t standardized, which means it can’t be used to provide a comprehensive picture of the organization’s ecosystem. Further, as is true of all cutting-edge medical tech, these devices are incredibly expensive; despite how much time and money (not to mention human life) is saved by the tech, if hospitals cannot afford it, it is relatively useless.