IoT and healthcare is not a new concept, and it has been slowly finding its place in our healthcare system for years. One of the contributing factors in slowing the revolution has been the patient.
The very person it is aimed at helping. Shifting the role of medical providers from person to digital format is often met with some skepticism from patients, fearing a loss in the personable and human interaction medicine has historically had. The idea of a video call or virtual meeting with your doctor 18 months ago would have been unthinkable for many. How could a physician possibly diagnose a photo or treat an ailment through a screen? Covid-19 backed everyone into a corner and forced physicians to re-think and re-model their patient care. More importantly, perhaps, it forced patients into accepting a new age of treatment and consequently, and indirectly, facilitated the advancement of IoT in our healthcare system.
So, how can IoT revolutionize healthcare?
One thing that the pandemic required patients and medical staff to do was to maintain social distancing. Of course, there are times where it was impossible, but essentially every effort was made to ensure a 6 feet distance was kept between people at all times. Even from your physician. The other hurdle many physicians and patients faced during the pandemic was that of the requirement to quarantine. Thousands of people all over the world were required to quarantine at home to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and this presented serious challenges to daily life. This is where the use of drones has come into its own in the medical field. Drones not only enable the use of social distancing but have also been able to work around the requirement for quarantine successfully.
Drones allow for the rapid provision of distanced medical advice and care. They also make it possible to transport medical supplies to rural or remote destinations without ever having to leave the house, or hospital. Medical supplies can be transported between hospitals and labs faster than manpower alone and without social interaction. The use of drones allows patients to receive medical attention and or the supplies they need and ultimately creates a safer working environment for personnel and safer treatment options for patients, which is more important than ever during a global pandemic.
Currently, drone technology is just scratching the surface in terms of healthcare. Looking forward, it is not impossible to imagine a world where a drone takes on the role of an ambulance. As mentioned, they can deliver medical supplies and first aid kits quicker than humans to anywhere in the world, however remote. They can also be equipped with cameras enabling medical staff to see and treat emergencies they cannot reach in time-sensitive situations.
Drones are becoming more and more commonplace in today’s world, whether it is in the medical sector, for commercial use, or personal pleasure. Their technology and capabilities are advancing and evolving all the time. For a look at some of the most cutting edge drones available and how they are being used, visit https://www.drdrone.ca/
Monitoring and IoT have been in place for some time and are the most common way that IoT has impacted healthcare delivery. Remote patient monitoring involves IoT devices collecting data remotely from patients and transmitting it to the relevant medical professional. This means patients do not have to attend medical facilities, and physicians do not have to rely on patients to collect and report data themselves. Removing the margin for error. The benefits of this are wide-reaching without a global pandemic, but it is easy to see how the coronavirus pandemic has normalized and accelerated the use of remote monitoring.
Data commonly collected commonly includes blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, temperature, and heart rate. One of the newer metrics hoping to infiltrate the market is glucose monitoring. With millions of diabetes sufferers worldwide, the ability to continuously and effectively monitor glucose levels could truly have a revolutionary impact. Once data is received, the software will analyze the data and generate an alert to the treating physician should there be any inconsistencies or required treatment.
The pandemic has seen patient monitoring change gear and transforms from transmitting patient ‘at home’ data to the implementation of virtual hospital wards. The UK’s healthcare system, the NHS, implemented remote monitoring during the Covid pandemic to alleviate pressure on hospital beds. It worked by patients monitoring vitals such as oxygen levels at home and sharing the results via their smartphones or devices with their clinical team. It allowed patients and medical staff to monitor progress outside of the hospital setting and pick up any deterioration as soon as it began. It meant more critical care beds were available for those who needed them and allowed doctors to employ their attention where it is most required.
The UK has gone further than this and trialed the use of virtual wards when caring for patients at risk of hospital admission, irrespective of their Covid status. Patients are added to a ‘virtual ward’, and professionals from all medical and social care disciplines review the patient’s status from the data collected, without having to visit the patient to obtain it. The most appropriate member of their team can act upon the data received and where necessary visit the patient. This approach can help reduce hospital admissions and ensure the best package of care is in place for supporting patients either at home or on discharge from the hospital. Ultimately saving both time and money and improving patient care.
The UAE is rumored to be going even further than this and is in talks with a telecommunications provider to introduce the first virtual hospital to the region. While finer details are yet to be released, it does beg the question, is IOT paving the way for truly virtual healthcare?
Perhaps one of the most pioneering developments IoT has had in the medical world is robotic surgery. While the use of IoT in surgeries is not a new concept or even practice, the potential of the widespread use of IoT integrated surgeries would be game-changing.
IOT assisted surgeries can firstly reduce incision size and make surgeries less invasive and easier to recover from. Still, more importantly, they can allow surgeons to perform operations from a completely different location to their patients. The impact of this is vast. It would mean patients would no longer need to leave their local hospital to undergo the treatment they need. Patients wouldn’t have to cross the country, or even the globe, to receive potentially life-saving care. What is more, patients based in more remote locations will access the same level of healthcare and treatment as those based in bustling cities benefiting from city healthcare.
Surgeries like this are not without their challenges, but the development of 5G, high-resolution cameras, and advanced robotics has opened the door to the exciting expansion of robotic surgeries.
The downside to IoT and healthcare
The advancement IoT has brought to healthcare is astonishing, and this article is the tip of the iceberg. Healthcare is a fundamental need experienced by everybody worldwide, yet its distribution is not always equal. It is hoped that greater integration of IoT into healthcare systems worldwide will help even out healthcare distribution and those who benefit from it. It is not, however, without its challenges.
One of the biggest challenges IoT faces in healthcare is patient privacy and the security of data. As an inherent side effect of their use IoT devices will be required to obtain, store and transmit sensitive medical and personal data. If IoT is to be a mainstream player in healthcare, then patients need to trust developers and manufacturers with their most private information.
The onus is on the developers to ensure that anonymity and patient privacy is prioritized. Just as the onus is placed on them to ensure the devices are protected with the most stringent security. Hackers could access the device from anywhere in the world. Although hacking medical devices and sabotaging healthcare may seem unlikely or even extreme, whilst it is not impossible, the risk remains.
Perhaps a more likely concern faced by IoT users is that of data leaks and data mismanagement. Reports of data leaks are not uncommon, and the potential for sensitive data to be stolen and exploited remains a genuine concern that manufacturers will need to get on top of to ensure the efficacy of the IoT healthcare revolution.
What is more, it is incumbent that these devices be used, understood, and managed properly. Patients need to be aware of how their data is being used and why. Just as the professionals using them need to know how to use them to maintain their integrity and keep them from being accessed by the wrong hands. Adequate training must be given by employers to employees using IoT devices to ensure user practice is not at fault for the misuse of data. Potentially a much more likely scenario than an international attack on healthcare.
While the evolution of IoT in healthcare is not without its hurdles, it is fair to say that the role IoT is playing in the revolution of healthcare is unending, wide-reaching, and incredibly exciting for professionals and patients alike.
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