One of the most complex challenges of modern society is the impact of the upcoming demographic change. The world's population is aging at a staggering pace. The WHO states that between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%. As of 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years.
“All countries face major challenges to ensure that their health and social systems are ready to make the most of this demographic shift” - World Health Organization.
Arguably, innovative ideas can alleviate this impact. With technologies associated with the Internet-of-Things (IoT), blockchain and machine learning, a number of issues can be addressed or potentially resolved. In line with making technological advancements, the healthcare sector is set to become increasingly digitized and connected, partially in response to socioeconomic pressures.
IoT Devices’ Properties
In conjunction with an exponential growth in the number of connected IoT devices, the number of such IoT healthcare units is steadily growing. Within the European Union, the number of those units is expected to increase in the following decade: 11 million units from 2017 are forecasted to grow to 16.5 million units by 2020, and expected to reach up to 25.8 million units by 2025, according to Statista.
IoT is establishing itself as a key driver of the 4th Industrial Revolution and will disrupt many industries. At its core, the Internet-of-Things can be contextualized as a “framework for data exchange and sensory analysis of the physical world” (from The Internet of Things: A Survey). In the healthcare sector specifically, the trend towards digitalization and automation can be traced back to advantageous properties of IoT devices, namely:
- Tracking: The ability to capture geophysical and dimensional properties of devices in movement. This functionality enables awareness of location, movement, and trends and provides data on activity. Clear applications are already apparent in supply chain management or logistics.
- Identification and authentication: Correlation of devices to individuals is vital to ensure linkage of data to a specific individual. The process of authentication enables integrity and validity of source data.
- Data collection (monitoring): The capability to store, retrieve, and send data to the backend / cloud for analysis.
- Sensing: The capability to allow awareness of physical presence and surroundings.
- Control: Ensuring the behavior of a person or machine is as desired and allows for corrective action.
- Optimization: Using machine learning or artificial intelligence to enable complex decision-making by the system (or in some instances sensors) to improve performance and/or efficiency.
- Automation: Combining control and optimization of data from devices and other sources can allow these devices to make independent decisions.
The core characteristics of IoT provide a broad range of applications in creating the ability to collect data. This data can then be processed, analyzed and structured via software design capabilities which use tracking and sensing to create proximity and awareness data. From supply chains to the energy sector, IoT features can vary in their complexity from rudimentary to complicated or highly complex.
Given the features of IoT, a number of data-driven business models and digital health solutions can be designed, offering sustainable opportunities for profitable business cases.
Opportunities to Deploy IoT Technologies in Healthcare
IoT in healthcare is a vibrant force. In response to rising healthcare costs, an aging population, and the need for medical diagnosis and treatment in developing and underdeveloped regions, the sensor market in medical applications is growing. While for hospitals or care homes sensors and IoT devices render excellent services and optimize administrative costs, patients can also benefit with healthcare apps that change the way they interact with their doctors.
Remote Medical Assistance
The most popular IoT-enabled use case in healthcare is undoubtedly in remote medical assistance. Applications range from remote maternity care, where a patient’s vitals can be monitored or anticipated, to patients living in remote areas with a lack of facilities, and where devices can begin to address more adequate medical attention.
Berg Insight estimates that 7 million patients worldwide were remotely monitored in 2016, with that number expected to reach 50 million by 2021. Market research also states that revenues for remote patient monitoring solutions is expected to reach €32 billion by 2021.
These numbers are the underlying basis of an exponential upward trend in incorporating more connectivity in medical devices and pharmaceuticals in order to enable new services and value propositions.
Tracking Staff, Patients, and Inventory
Similar to any enterprise, hospitals and nursery homes or other health facilities strive to increase efficiency and reduce operational costs. Particularly for larger institutions that consist of several structures and campuses, who manage thousands of staff members and provide care to a large number of patients per day, using IoT devices helps bring order, making medical networks smarter and more efficient.
An efficient IoT roadmap implies automating and managing and care processes, monitoring day-to-day activities to detect bottlenecks, and a well-structured care infrastructure. While a number of hospitals already make use of card keys to restrict access, the usage of sensor technology as a means to track staff, patients, or inventories also proves valuable.
Operating Room Augmentation
Today, surgeons can rely upon operating instruments that are extremely precise. The introduction of robotics into operating rooms, the inner sanctum of surgeons, allows machines to assist in a surgeon’s workload by providing crucial assistance.
Artificial intelligence and connected robotic technologies have already been used for a variety of surgeries and the trend continues. Use of robot-assisted surgery through devices with increased vision and precision, push the limits of laparoscopy and minimally invasive surgeries. Following surgery, IoT sensors can collect, analyze and transmit data in order to prevent any post-surgical complications.
The educational aspect of introducing IoT technologies into operating rooms deserves special mention. Surgical instruments and devices connected with a high-resolution camera can enable later usage of the footage for educational purposes, or to share expertise amongst experts.
The use cases we’ve identified here rely on sensors or connected devices, which generate data in various types: behavioral, clinical, environmental, pharmaceutical, biological and others. But stand-alone data isn’t necessarily worth much; it is the data analytics that has the potential to impact all stakeholders of the healthcare system.
With generated data processed by cloud solutions or machine learning, service providers gain the opportunity to enhance operational efficiencies and revolutionize user experience in medical services. It is entirely possible to generate new data-driven business models or develop additional products and services.
Applying IoT technologies in healthcare addresses a myriad of issues. The given characteristics of IoT devices provides a number of applications and use cases that offer profitable opportunities. Using the data insights of IoT devices in healthcare will ultimately be beneficial.
According to DZone, “An effective data-driven approach to healthcare equals the optimized organizational performance, better customer engagement and enhanced decision making for medical units.”
A Novel Use Case: AssistMe
70% of residents of stationary care facilities suffer from advanced incontinence. The labor and costs involved are enormous. Inadequate incontinence care due to limited material and specialist resources often has sanitary, social and ethical consequences.
AssistMe's intelligent incontinence pants system, AIDMATE, detects the amount and type of excretions in real time, sending recommendations for action to the nursing staff and enabling task prioritization. The system’s capabilities and features can contribute to fewer leakages and more prevention of secondary illnesses, i.e. skin issues and internal infections. This shift in workflow can bring relief and confidence to nursing staff who are dedicated to delivering the highest quality of care.
AssistMe's CTO Pedro Silva showcasing AIDMATE's motherboard.
The benefits of such a system are clear: people in need of care need not be awakened unnecessarily at night, are treated in a more dignified way, and experience less interruption while having a reduced length of time in soiled incontinence pants.
With their use case, AssistMe provides a solution in anticipation of a specific problem in healthcare: AIDMATE, with its IoT technology, is an innovative solution that will positively impact a large segment of the population.
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