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[30] The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT): the connected future of healthcare

[Richard Van Hooijdonk] The Internet of Medical Things, also known as healthcare IoT, enables improved pharmaceutical and hospital processes, more efficient remote patient care, and increased data accuracy.

The ongoing lockdowns and quarantines of the past couple of years have significantly accelerated the worldwide implementation of tele-health, telemedicine, and the Medical IoT, which will continue to transform healthcare in the years ahead.

Not only will these developments enable more accurate diagnoses, they will also lead to more efficient and timely medical care as well as significant cost savings. The IoMT will enable a truly patient-centric approach to healthcare.

What exactly is the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)?

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is a subset of the Internet of Things (IoT) and encompasses medical information technology applications and healthcare devices that are inter-networked. The IoMT connects medical devices, such as wearable tech, diagnostic tools, and hospital equipment, with healthcare professionals and patients via a secure network. Networked devices could involve anything from implanted heart monitors to MRI machines and wearable glucose monitors. The IoMT makes use of machine-based intelligence, sensors, and automation, to reduce the need for hospital or doctor’s visits, and minimize dependence on humans for routine healthcare monitoring and procedures.

The Internet of Medical Things enables medical personnel to monitor conditions and symptoms from almost anywhere. And the data generated by these networked devices and applications enables more efficient workflows and reduces the risk of a patient’s condition worsening. While these advancements are already demonstrating their transformative power, we’ve really only scratched the surface of the potential of the IoMT.

How is the Internet of Things (IoT) used in healthcare?

The IoT has the potential to completely transform healthcare by simplifying access to real-time patient data and enabling remote and self-monitoring of patients. This helps reduce doctor’s visits and hospital stays, prevent readmissions, and empower physicians to deliver top-quality care. The IoT also helps to significantly lower healthcare costs and improve treatment outcomes. Important factors that are expected to drive the growth of the IoMT include the global increase in chronic diseases, the surging demand for cost-effective disease management and treatment, the proliferation of sophisticated smart devices and analytics software, and the decreasing costs of sensor technology. Here are some examples of how the IoT is used in healthcare.

At home

The IoMT enables patients to send medical data from their home to, for instance, a hospital or care provider. (Wearable) medical devices can transmit information like oxygen saturation, blood glucose levels, or blood pressure from patients to keep their physicians up to date. This way, any potential complications can be picked up in time and prevent (re)admissions to the hospital. Telehealth technologies can provide additional assistance during patient recovery at home by connecting patients with their healthcare providers to resolve any minor medical issues. Telehealth, in combination with the Internet of Medical Things, also provides security to seniors living at home. For instance, these technologies can be used to track medical emergencies such as a heart attack or a fall, and activate emergency response services.

The IoMT, combined with devices like ingestible smart pills, can also help monitor how a patient responds to their prescribed medication and keep their doctors up to date, which is particularly useful during clinical trials. And patients who struggle to remember how or when to take their medication can be given a smart pill to send a reminder to their smartphone should they have missed a dose. If they continue to miss their medication, the smart pill can even notify their doctor.

AdhereTech smart pill bottles, for instance, automatically measure if patients have taken their medication. The bottle also sends data to the AdhereTech servers, where it is analyzed in real time. If the patient misses a dose, he or she will be notified by lights and chimes on the bottle, or by automated phone call or text message.

At the hospital

It’s critical for hospitals to manage the supply and quality of their medical assets. It’s also important to have detailed insights into the interactions and movements of patients and healthcare personnel. Monitoring systems like IoMT sensors can help provide a comprehensive understanding of the goings on at the hospital. Smart medical devices connected to the Internet of Medical Things enable the control and monitoring of hospital machinery, provide greater predictability in terms of equipment lifespans, and send notifications when devices are likely to require maintenance or repairs.

The IoMT also plays an important role in the emergency room. Computer vision technology, RFID tags, and infrared sensors can collect real-time data about the availability of hospital beds, improving the transition from patients from the emergency room. These technologies also provide critical information to emergency medication technicians (EMTs) who transport patients to hospitals. This can help them make better informed decisions on which patient to reroute to which hospital. Infrared sensors and the IoMT are also used to monitor the availability of blood – critical information EMTs need to decide which hospital to take a patient to.

In the future, we will see patients entering emergency rooms being fitted with IoT-enabled ID wristbands that will monitor them through every phase of their hospital stay. These wearables will continuously check respiratory rate, pulse, blood pressure, and body temperature and send out notifications to hospital staff in the event there is an alarming change.

At pharmacies

Many organizations are starting to realize the benefits of pharmacy automation and Internet of Things devices in ways that are revolutionizing the industry. Barcodes and RFID tags in storage and production facilities provide real-time visibility into medication stock and monitor stock movements between locations. IoT-enabled sensor-tech can also be used to monitor and adjust temperature and humidity levels. Medicines should generally be stored between 15-25 degrees Celsius. But some medication needs to be in cool storage, cold storage, or even fridge storage. And then there’s humidity levels that need to be taken into account as well. IoMT-systems enable pharmacies to monitor temperature and humidity conditions more effectively and securely and offer accurate, real-time data measurements. These monitoring systems can also send out alerts when storage conditions aren’t as they should be.

The Internet of Medical Things also helps improve document production processes by providing real-time information regarding quality compliance obligations, which is critical as the pharmaceutical industry is subject to stringent regulation. IoT-enabled electronic prescriptions and drug-monitoring systems at pharmacies can also help prevent opioid abuse by finding errors or irregularities and recognizing patterns of controlled and non-controlled prescription use.

The benefits of the IoMT at a glance

The implementation of IoT technologies in healthcare offers many benefits, such as remote treatment monitoring, more accessible and effective telemedicine, and control over medical adherence. Here are some of the general benefits at a glance.

Objective reporting

As IoMT devices can record and report on all kinds of physiological activities, even at the nervous system level, doctors no longer need to rely solely on subjective patient reports of how they are feeling. Instead, the IoMT offers a much more objective evaluation of a patient’s state of health and therapy results, recorded and analyzed by smart (wearable) medical devices.

Improved accessibility to healthcare

One of the most promising aspects of the Internet of Medical Things is its ability to bring healthcare to people unable to access healthcare due to an ailment or disability that prevents them from traveling, or to people who are isolated due to their geographical location. The combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensor tech, wearables, and video-based appointments enables doctors to deliver quality care outside of the hospital environment, at a time that’s convenient for the patient.

Significant cost reductions

According to a recent survey, IoMT systems can save the healthcare industry billions of dollars as they can quickly process patient data and, therefore, significantly increase productivity. The IoMT can help decrease in-person visits, which are costly for healthcare institutions to facilitate and therefore expensive for the patient as well. Remote video monitoring enables practitioners to keep an eye on patients after discharge, remind them to take their medication, and recognize symptoms that could indicate an upcoming problem.

Accurate diagnoses

The fast and efficient transmission of data from patient to healthcare providers enables quicker diagnosis and treatment, which saves lives and significantly reduces costs. Devices that continually monitor critical health statistics in a way that isn’t possible during a single doctors’ or hospital visit are a valuable tool for healthcare practitioners. Over the course of several weeks, for instance, these devices can capture information like blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels, which enables healthcare providers to quickly and accurately diagnose illness and devise the right course of treatment.

Early intervention and improved treatment

Ingestible smart pills fitted with nanosensors are used as an effective tool to measure vital statistics like core temperature so that important indicators of a potential problem can be picked up early. This enables doctors to quickly start a new or adjust an existing treatment, or intervene in other ways in order to prevent deterioration and hospitalization. Smart pills can also be used to monitor and analyze medication efficiency and adherence.

Less burden on healthcare systems

The remote management of patients via IoMT sensors and devices reduces the need for in-hospital visits and doctors’ consultations, which could save the global healthcare sector an astounding $300 billion annually. The IoMT also leads to significant reductions in resources, hospital admissions, and the use of physical space, such as consultation rooms.

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