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May 1, 2023
Compared to other industries, health care has been relatively slow to adopt technological solutions due to the stringent nature of regulations; a trend that was disrupted by the pandemic as staff and operational pressures forced companies’ hands to accelerate the deployment of IoT tools.
“Everything you do that touches patient data has to be regulated,” said Andy Brown, IoT practice lead at Omdia. “This has historically been a barrier for a lot of companies wanting to get into the health care space from an IoT standpoint, but the landscape changed almost overnight because of the challenges the pandemic presented to the global supply chain.”
With the shift in market requirements, investment into digital technology and medical tech startups saw a rapid climb in a short space of time; and it’s a market only expected to continue pulling in more funds as health care providers continue to work through a backlog of patients still requiring treatment.
“This backlog of patients has put even more pressure on the health care system,” said Brown. “The only way this can be managed, without hiring a huge number of medical professionals (who take considerable time to train), is to push people into digital infrastructure. In this way, digital transformation after COVID is moving health care systems into the 21st century.”
Since the pandemic began, telehealth has increased across the industry. Social distancing and isolation requirements pushed appointments online, while remote monitoring solutions emerged in full force to better connect patients and health care providers. The full potential of this tool has not yet been realized, with innovators continuing to push the capabilities of virtual care. That shift to online care is a trend predicted to become a mainstay of the patient experience.
“Face-to-face consultations are expensive, time-consuming, and there are insufficient resources to have direct interactions with everyone,” said Brown.
The value of the remote patient monitoring market is expected to reach $43 billion globally by 2027, while the global smart health care market will reach $468 billion by 2030.
Supporting this trend is the fact that many patients have smartphones, lowering the barriers to adoption, as well as driving growth in telehealth services.
According to Brown, another crucial part of health care’s digital transformation is asset tracking; with an awareness of items and people around a hospital, as well as the tools to identify patterns and pre-empt potential problems.
When it comes to monitoring patients, the deployment of IoT systems offers an additional layer of protection by predicting outcomes and potential problems before they happen.
“From an IoT standpoint; IoT plus location (Real Time Location Services) plus AI, are areas where there’s a real chance to accelerate digital transformation,” Brown said. “You can build a pattern of behavior so you can predict when something is likely to go wrong. That’s how AI and analytics can help as a layer on top of just monitoring. That’s really where the value is.”
As population sizes grow, capacity issues will continue to rise and having the tools
“Increasingly, IoT is about connecting assets and also understanding them,” said Brown. “Understanding where they are and how they’re being used, as well as how to then deliver better quality service by having insight into a patient’s health and into a hospital’s other assets.”
In hospitals, IoT devices tagged with sensors are used for tracking the real-time location of medical equipment such as defibrillators, oxygen pumps and other monitoring equipment. While it may sound mundane, awareness of these daily-use items chips away at costs and efficiency losses from overworked staff unable to find the correct equipment. to monitor and predict problems will be increasingly valuable, saving time, resources and even lives if deployed correctly.
However, while the utilization of these novel technologies has been significant, the sudden shift also sheds light on the shortcomings in health care systems themselves, including supply chain inefficiencies, outdated processes and lack of interoperability. All remain barriers to global adoption and need addressing before we can expect wide-scale deployment.
“One of the big problems we have in health care is that information/data is siloed,” said Brown. “Information captured in one area is not always shared with other areas. A lot of IT infrastructure is also operating on legacy systems, and we’re seeing a mix of physical and digital content when it comes to medical records and other health care processes.”
Smart health care devices such as wearable sensors or asset trackers often operate on separate platforms, presenting a challenge for operators choosing between providers, and for consumers wanting to monitor different physiological symptoms on a holistic system. As a result, while the development of IoT technologies is a market changer, widespread adoption and benefits cannot be seen without a standardized method of sharing the data collected.
“Once you have good data sharing and interoperability, it facilitates growth and improves patient experience,” Brown said.
The use of wearable devices that consistently monitor and collect medical data also raises data privacy and security concerns. Five million people were expected to be remotely monitored by 2023, making health care device protection from external attacks increasingly important. A February 2021 Kenneth Research report highlighted that many of these devices have proximity based vulnerabilities, and can be targeted while transferring data.
Improving health care through wearables is contingent on patient data being secured and anonymized, and while these factors are obstacles to a full industry overhaul, IoT is still driving significant change in the sector.
“There is definitely still some way to go, and certain barriers to full-scale adoption are still there, it remains a highly regulated market,” said Brown. “But, broadly speaking, the health care sector is moving more quickly than previously because of COVID and because spending on health care has grown exponentially.”
“Technology can’t replace talented medical professionals,” he added, “but it can help manage the pressure on health care systems, and it can help in the longer term to manage the sheer cost of health care systems.”
Assistant Editor, IoT World Today
Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.
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