Internet of Things for healthcare – the present and the future

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5 minute read
Jo Reid

Jo Reid

Managing Director

Aerospace & Engineering

Internet of Things: stats and facts

  • The term ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton to describe a wireless network that connects devices and objects remotely.
  • Almost 20 years on, 87% of consumers still don’t understand what IoT actually is – we hope to make things a little bit clearer with this series.
  • According to Intel, by 2020 there will be over 200 billion devices connected by the IoT, with the average person owning 5 connected devices.
  • By 2020, it is estimated that over half of new businesses will incorporate the IoT into their products, processes, or systems.

How did we get here?  

From talking fridges to intelligent kettles and smart hair brushes, everyday devices powered by the IoT range from the frivolous to the fantastical. While the volume and variety of devices continues to escalate, the real power of the IoT isn’t within the devices themselves, but in the value of the data they generate. It’s the classic snowball effect: the more information we have, the more we can do with it.

While the IoT has potential and purpose in almost every industry on earth, healthcare is one of the most exciting: mainly because, unlike a £65 connected umbrella, its solutions have the potential to radically alter the way medicine is practiced across the globe, changing people’s lives for the better.

Over the past decade, more and more device users have adopted personal health and wellbeing tech: there are currently around 165,000 health related mobile apps, from sleep monitors to calorie counters. More recently, the explosion of wearable technology – such as FitBit and Apple Watch – has increased the variety and accuracy of vital stats that can be measured in an instant, from glucose levels to alcohol intake.

What does all this mean for healthcare on a general scale? In essence: people want to know, understand, and control more aspects of their health and wellbeing. For the healthcare sector, its potentially life-changing applications are far from hyperbole.  

What’s happening now?

The IoT is powered by information. Healthcare, too, is powered by information: doctors have traditionally relied on a mixture of patient recall, examination observances, and test data to guide them in their diagnoses and treatment.

But with the sector under the significant pressure of an ageing population and an increase in those with long-term, chronic conditions, services are feeling the stretch. While hospitals are short on beds, medical staff at all levels are short on the time they need to continuously monitor patients with conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and dementia.

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Under pressure: Medical staff are short on the monitoring time that’s needed

Some have hailed the IoT as the Uberfication of healthcare, referring to the way in which connected technologies are bit by bit changing the way the industry operates (pun intended). For healthcare, the IoT isn’t a post-2020 dream: many of its applications are already in use to expedite the data-collection process, and alleviate pressure on hospitals. Here are some of our highlights:

  • In 2016, the NHS rolled out an innovative ‘Test Bed’ program which uses connective technology and remote monitoring to allow patients with diabetes and age-related risk factors to self-manage their conditions from home.
  • Integrated health management technology is being used to help dementia sufferers through smart sensors and monitors that track key activity. These devices use machine-learning patterns to alert relatives, caregivers, or emergency responders to any significant changes in behaviour.
  • From wearables that monitor hydration levels, to smart systems that prompt and dispense the exact amount of medication: there are an ever-expanding array of solutions to help the elderly at home.
  • Devices that can detect abnormal heart rhythms using just a fingertip touch, and wearables that can capture and measure symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

In terms of practical applications, these healthcare solutions are merely the tip of the iceberg.

What does the future hold?

By 2020, analysts estimate the connected health market will be worth $117 billion but it’s not the money that’s the exciting part, it’s the increasingly transformative applications of technology.

The more connections there are between devices, the more effective monitoring will become, giving users the power to prevent illnesses and see patterns building up before they become a problem. Basic stats, routinely gathered through automated devices – such as connected blood pressure monitors – will paint an accurate picture of patient health, giving power back to both the patients themselves and the doctors who treat them.

This move from reactive to proactive, personalised care excites at both ends of the healthcare spectrum. Deep learning tools will offer doctors the ability to make actionable recommendations based on rich data, collected remotely. These recommendations are powerful for patients who are managing chronic diseases, and for those who are – and would quite like to remain – healthy through preventative monitoring.

In practice, what could this mean for healthcare in 10, 20, or 30 years time? Empowered patients, and more informed doctors? Quicker diagnoses, and better survival rates? Less reliance on the care system? Potentially, all of the above and more.

The digital landscape is evolving constantly, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it through our varied technology projects. Take a look here.

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