As great as the impact the Internet of Things is expected to make in other sectors, it can potentially be even greater in the healthcare space. Hailed as a means to improve decision-making and workflows, the IoT can accelerate the trend toward interoperability, which has long been an overarching concern for those in the medical field.
It is no small consideration, as the challenge involves communication between systems and organizations, where data is too often locked in silos. Ensuring a free flow of information will lead to greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness, improved care and, most importantly, improved outcomes.
As Russ Johannesson, CEO of the SaaS company Glooko, told Mobihealth News in February 2022:
“The interoperability of EHRs (i.e., electronic health records), devices, information systems and the digital health tools that are out there – this push toward interoperability is really critical to making the solutions that are out there in the market more valuable, as we do operate in a more connected ecosystem.”
Pushing forward in that regard, then, is critical, given the explosion of data, the expected shortage of clinicians in the years ahead and the aging U.S. population, which will lead to more people with greater and greater needs, given the prevalence of chronic conditions among seniors.
By its very definition, the Internet of Medical Things can address the issue of interoperability, as it involves various medical devices and software applications connecting to systems, and each other. Full maturity will depend on the continuing development of 5G networks and edge computing, and there are undoubtedly privacy and security concerns. But certainly there is great promise in the IoMT.
Deloitte estimates that the IoMT global market will stand at $158.1 billion by the end of 2022, and Fortune Business Insights predicts that by 2028, that will rise to $188 billion, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30 percent. Hadi Chaudhry, CEO and president of the healthcare technology company CareCloud, called the IoMT “the next generation of healthcare” in a company news release, and other leaders in the sector are loath to disagree.
Evgeniy Altynpara, CEO of the software development company Cleveroad, wrote for Forbes in April 2022 that this emerging technology “opens up opportunities for fundamental changes in patient care” and can be used to “deliver more value, increase customer satisfaction rates and reduce infrastructure costs.” Then he cited an estimate by Goldman Sachs that the IoMT can save healthcare systems some $300 billion annually.
The Alliance of Advanced Biomedical Engineering noted that use cases fall into one of five categories: the on-body segment (consumer-grade and clinical wearables), the in-home segment (telehealth, remote patient monitoring), the community segment (mobility services, emergency response intelligence, kiosks, point-of-care devices and logistics), the in-clinic segment (administrative and clinical usage) and the in-hospital segment (asset management, personnel management, patient flow management, inventory management and environment).
Others have drilled down further, pointing out not only the obvious fact that sensors can monitor patients’ vital signs but that the IoMT can impact emergency room operations, as devices like RFID tags and infrared sensors can track the availability of beds. That improves not only the workflows of in-house staff but those of emergency personnel faced with the decision of delivering patients to a facility where they might receive the most immediate care.
Moreover, sensors can track supplies of blood and other biomaterials, and the patient data such sensors provide can help those in the insurance sector ascertain which surgical procedures might be most appropriate for each individual. It can also hasten the processing of claims.
The IoMT can also allow for the tracking of pharmaceutical inventory, and keep clinicians abreast of potentially adverse drug reactions. Additionally, ingestible sensors have emerged that are capable of tracking medication adherence.
As mentioned, the continuing 5G rollout will have much to say about the IoMT reaching full maturity. One report indicated that while progress toward 5G standalone networks has been laborious, those networks built upon 4G networks are progressing much more quickly, and that we are only months away from the point where one billion subscribers around the world will have access.
As for edge computing, it is expected to hasten the advent of personalized care, while also boosting security – an increasing concern, given the prevalence of cyberattacks. The Ponemon Institute, a Michigan-based research center, released a report in September 2022 showing that 89 percent of healthcare facilities had faced repeated attacks in the previous 12 months, and two in 10 of those organizations saw mortality rates among patients increase immediately following those attacks. But Healthcare IT Today reports that edge computing would allow organizations to take a giant leap beyond current security measures, limiting the attack surface and thwarting hackers.
The bottom line is that the IoMT has shown great promise, but that promise is yet to be fully realized. Further steps are needed before it reaches that point, and it is able to meet the growing challenges facing the healthcare industry.
Melissa Powell is COO of Genesis HealthCare.