The Wireless World of IoT Health: How the Internet of Things is Transforming Healthcare
If there’s one place that the Internet of Things (IoT) is making its mark, it’s in the field of healthcare. MarketResearch.com released a report that found IoT deployments in healthcare are set to reach $117 billion by 2020, to say nothing of the other fields connected innovation is impacting. This is no surprise once it’s understood what the connected sensors and smart systems that comprise the IoT are capable of; from wearables that remind you to stay active and healthy to implant sensors that can save lives, this market’s potential impact on the world is very significant.
That said, there are still hurdles to overcome before IoT-connected devices begin to populate hospitals en masse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of web developers will grow 27% nationally between 2014 and 2024, which is higher than the average growth rate for all occupations.1 Filling these positions is important for the growth of the IoT, particularly in healthcare. The risks are too high for developers and coders not to be top notch, as one poorly written line of code could open up a hospital’s IoT infrastructure to debilitating bugs, or, worse, a cybercriminal exploit. Fortunately, tomorrow’s workforce seems to understand the need to learn coding today, as evidenced by the rising popularity of online development schools and coding bootcamps. With a new generation of coders and developers rising to meet the healthcare IoT’s inherent challenges, it’s only a matter of time before the field as we know today it benefits from the power of connectivity.
 Data reflects a national projected percentage change in employment from 2014-2024 and may not reflect local economic conditions.
Improving Quality Of Life Through Sensors
In-hospital medical sensors represent the height of IoT sophistication in healthcare, so much so that the future of hospital operations has been compared to air traffic control. Not only can a wide variety of sensors help improve efficiencies in staffing, medication, supply, and administration, cutting edge technologies are presenting opportunities once thought impossible. Sensors can’t be placed directly on the delicate skin of a newborn infant, for example, but hospitals are monitoring neonatal health using high-definition cameras that measure breathing, temperature, and skin color, and automatically alert a nurse or doctor of any changes. Even seemingly simple developments such as digital signage can help improve efficiency in hospital operations.
Flexible patient monitoring is one of the key aims of new healthcare sensors. With new connected monitoring products, patients are now being given the option to stay in their homes instead of a room at the hospital, without missing any of the benefits of observation by doctors and nurses. Considering that the average cost for a single inpatient was more than $1,900 a day in 2014, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the amount of money saved by patients could be substantial. This new generation of sensors is able to monitor a patient’s condition remotely, and even be applied to medication. Philips, for example, has created a pillbox that alerts patients when it is time to take their meds, and sends a message to doctors, nurses, or, in the case of the elderly, even family members, to let them know they’ve been taken.
Wireless implant sensors don’t just bring the doctor and nurse to your room, but can also bring them with you everywhere you go–figuratively of course. Those with heart problems are now receiving wireless pacemakers that not only control the rhythm of the heart, but also can exchange information with hospital staff, doctors, and the machine’s vendor, allowing for constant health monitoring in real-time. For diabetics, an artificial pancreas system that relies on sensors inserted under the skin to constantly monitor glucose levels and automatically signals an insulin pump to deliver insulin through a tube inserted in the body. The caveat to implant sensors is that these devices can harm their hosts without proper security in place. Errors in the software could cause an insulin pump to deliver a fatal dose, or allow hackers access to a wireless pacemaker, further highlighting the need for solid developers and coders to build the IoT on a secure infrastructure.
The wireless wearables market mirrors the aim of wireless implant sensors, albeit at a much less critical level. As FitBit and other health-ready wearables such as Apple Watch have seen early success, the worldwide wearables market continues to grow. According to IDC It reached a new all-time high to 33.9 million units shipped in Q4 of 2016 representing 16.9% growth over the previous year. Consumers aren’t the only ones eyeing the power of connected-wearables; Healthcare providers and insurers are interested in the data generated by these devices. Instead of relying on the word of the user that their health information is accurate, insurers can see, for example, that you do indeed exercise regularly. Life insurance company John Hancock recently began offering discounts to premiums, up to 15 percent in certain cases, for users that will let them track data through a free Fitbit monitor they send you.
These are just a few examples of the ways that the IoT is supporting dynamacy in healthcare and influencing the future of the medical field, and doesn’t even scratch the surface in terms of what’s feasible. Of course, building the proper infrastructure and keeping it secure is still a major concern across the IoT, and healthcare is no different–but as long as the right people step up to plate, we’ll have the personnel to code and develop it properly, and unlock a connected world of unlimited possibility in healthcare.