The Internet of Medical Things has acquired a predominant role within the mobile healthcare ecosystem. It has helped developers bridge the gaps between patients, physicians, institutions and drive connected medical care forward.
For several years now, modern technologies have become a pervasive tool in human lives. Apps, websites, wearables, and countless IT-powered devices have been widely adopted across all industries worldwide. They are the propellers of more efficient processes and the globalization of modern business operations. Similarly, this past decade we have also witnessed the rise of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, and Machine Learning. These technologies have infiltrated our everydayness to modernize the way humans interact with our surroundings, which is particularly true for the healthcare sector. Healthcare has been a quick adopter of these technologies and has applied them to push itself forward and innovate medical care delivery. One of the propellers of this modernization is a boundless web-connected universe known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Its extension into healthcare, known as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), is the main focus of this article.
IoT technology is usually associated with wearables and fitness trackers. Still, most people don’t know that it has revolutionized the healthcare sector to the point where it has become necessary. IoT has become central in building a connected infrastructure of medical software, systems, devices, and applications, that enable preventative, patient-centered medical care. Similarly, IoT technologies have also automated hospital workflows, simplifying physicians’ jobs and streamlining operations across the healthcare sector, from pharma companies to private practices. On that same note, let’s consider that before the pandemic (2019), about 36 million patients were admitted to US hospitals per year, From here, it becomes evident that IoT technologies are a godsend for the sector to handle such high patient traffic more efficiently.
Let’s examine the IoT universe and how IoMT, its healthcare counterpart, has impacted the mobile healthcare space.
The Role of IoMT in Mobile Healthcare
The chances are high that your most recent medical care interaction involved some sort of IT-powered medical device like a blood pressure monitor, heart rate tracker, digital glucose monitor, or even an MRI scanner. According to Deloitte, this shouldn’t surprise you; there are currently more than 500,000 different types of medical devices available in the healthcare sector. These devices can come in the form of wearables (activity trackers or blood glucose monitors), implanted devices (pacemakers), and stationary devices (home monitoring devices), among others. The amalgamation between said devices, apps, software, and IT systems connected to healthcare technology networks is known as IoMT. But before diving deeper into the ins and outs of IoMT, we think it’s worth it to take a glance at IoT.
IoT is commonly defined as the growing number of electronic devices connected to the internet–or each other–and collect, share, and store data. Thanks to modern computer chips and wireless networks, you can turn almost anything into an IoT device. This is why many devices fall under the IoT umbrella, from refrigerators and light bulbs to industrial sensors and machinery. Whichever the case, these devices gather data that use AI-based technology to analyze, store, and use said data to produce actionable insights. These intelligent systems are becoming commonplace in homes, businesses, and industries, which is why the amount of connected IoT devices has skyrocketed these past years. As of late 2020, more than 50 billion IoT devices generated almost 4.5 zettabytes that year and will likely reach a worldwide market value of more than $14 trillion.
Originally, IoMT was a simple by-product of the IoT cosmos. However, it has now become a valuable ally for healthcare institutions worldwide, with nearly 60% of them having introduced IoMT devices into their daily operations. What separates the IoMT from other IoT ecosystems is the marriage between the wave of internet-connected medical devices and the systems and software that gather data from those devices. In other words, IoMT creates a durable bond between stakeholders, data, processes, and devices. This bond drives medical care delivery and improves patient outcomes without raising workloads or adding pressure to the healthcare system. When we add healthcare apps to the mix, we transfer those relationships to the mobile arena. This enables remote access to patient data, real-time device data monitoring, telehealth services, consultations, education, and more.
All of these within the touch of a finger. This way, the merger of IoMT and mobile healthcare has become decisive for the future of medical services. However, you should note that the numerous data points generated from IoMT devices will have no impact upon health care delivery processes unless they can be processed efficiently and turned into actionable insight. The extent to which the IoMT market keeps growing and impacts medical delivery is dependent on the continued gathering, interpretation, and application of data. Still, the world keeps witnessing growth in the IoT healthcare market. According to Frost & Sullivan, it ended 2016 with an estimated value of $22,5 billion and is expected to reach $72,02 billion by the end of 2021. These figures mean an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.2% in only five years. Needless to say, IoMT has revolutionized the mobile healthcare industry.
It has given scope to the relationships between stakeholders and has enhanced the ways medical care gets delivered. On that same token, IoMT technologies help keep patients and doctors connected via remote monitoring and telehealth. They also help hospitals keep track of staff and patients and reduce inefficiency and errors in diagnosis, treatments, and institutional practices. On this last point, AI and deep learning have been beneficial to reduce mistakes in diagnosing diseases, optimizing disease management, and processing the big data provided by healthcare apps and IoMT devices.
Lastly, IoMT devices can also facilitate the automation of patient care workflow, chronic disease management, data culling, and analysis. They can even optimize drug manufacturing processes, resulting in lower drug prices and better quality control for the pharma industry. Let’s look at some of these benefits in more detail.
Benefits of IoMT in Mobile Healthcare
1. IoMT remote health reporting and monitoring
One of the most significant benefits that IoMT has brought to the healthcare sector is enabling remote medical assistance. IoMT gadgets are often attached to a patient’s body to gather or store data, take readings, and observe behavioral patterns. These data are shared and subsequently read and interpreted to produce treatment avenues and diagnoses. IoMT devices can help physicians track and monitor patients’ health conditions without summoning them for an in-person appointment when connected to an app or software.
Usually, IoMT devices for remote monitoring are simple smartwatches or patches that collect and transfer health data related to blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen and blood glucose levels, weight, temperature, activity levels, and electrocardiograms. However, more advanced devices, like Qardio or Gut Feeling, go beyond the basic reporting and dig deeper into a patient’s specific condition. These functionalities are beneficial for elderly or vulnerable patients because they constantly send real-time health information to doctors. They, in turn, can better survey their patient’s health evolution, vital signs, and diseases, reduce in-person visits, and empower their patients to manage their health from home. Additionally, real-time monitoring via IoMT devices can save lives in medical emergencies like heart, asthma, or diabetes attacks, to name a few.
Innovative healthcare app developers often build apps that connect with these IoMT devices and allow both patients and physicians to remotely observe, record, and manipulate the information sent by the device. Patient data can also be stored in the cloud and safely shared with authorized parties, like pharma companies for drug research or insurance companies, which may play a role in the patient’s care. As a result, IoMT devices are becoming increasingly valuable to streamline health care delivery processes and release workloads for all stakeholders. On this point, Vivify Health, a company that enables remote patient monitoring, conducted a clinical trial that bolstered IoMT’s benefits. Patients were given a customized tablet with an app connected to a Bluetooth-enabled IoMT device to monitor their health remotely. The trial concluded with a reduction in hospital readmissions of 65% among congestive heart failure patients.
2. Cost Reduction
IoMT can immensely help reduce medical care costs while improving its effectiveness and reach, thanks to it being driven by the constant evolution of AI-powered technologies. Since these technologies only keep getting better and faster, AI-powered IoMT devices are becoming increasingly valuable for reducing costs for all stakeholders and improving operational inefficiencies. In fact, Goldman Sachs predicted that IoMT could save the healthcare industry around $300 billion each year, which is a testament to the cost-saving capabilities of this technology.
Using IoMT solutions and connected medical devices and apps across the entire healthcare system, from hospitals and private practices to pharma and insurance companies, allows institutions and users to access and provide services faster and remotely. This means fewer unnecessary routine checks, fewer or shorter hospital stays and readmissions, faster lab test protocols and insurance claims, and more efficient medical research. Also, thanks to efficient medical data collection, treatment plans transitioned from reactive to proactive, digitally-driven, personalized, and more valuable.
As a result, patients and doctors can collect individual data from these devices, access that information using their smartphones, and tailor specific treatment protocols. They can help reduce healthcare costs by reducing hospital readmissions, lowering medication non-adherence, and improving quality of life. Without the need for in-person consultations, all of this translates into reduced hospital traffic, less workload, and no need to hire additional staff or make structural modifications to deal with high patient turnover.
Ultimately, IoMT helps the healthcare industry capitalize on the countless possibilities presented by modern technologies. The ability to connect patients, doctors, and other providers enable patient-centricity and makes the entire system more productive and cost-effective.
3. Improved Connectivity and Interoperability
Arguably one of the biggest challenges, when implemented correctly, interoperability can also be one of the biggest perks of IoMT. With the help of mobile solutions, IoMT devices can automate patient care workflows while driving the healthcare system towards becoming an interconnected, next-gen industry. Moreover, introducing IoMT devices into the system has enabled instant information exchange, machine-to-machine communication, and seamless data movement between institutions. This has transformed the healthcare sector into an interconnected web of medical information. Consequently, IoMT creates a pathway towards building a unified technology-driven healthcare setup for sharing clinical data, findings, breakthroughs in research, disease behaviors and patterns, and drug discoveries with the proper standards and frameworks.
Additionally, IoMT and mobility solutions can create a centralized governance framework that can significantly improve data integrity within the healthcare system when compatibility and connectivity issues are overcome. It can also reduce costs by helping optimize resources and enhance collaboration and planning among stakeholders. This way, cross-industry partnerships powered by IoMT devices can bridge gaps between institutions and users, thus opening up communication paths that add clinical, operational, and monetary value to the system.
4. Data Assortment
Thanks to IoMT, vast amounts of medical data are available every day, anywhere, and anytime. These data sets are so large that they would be impossible to analyze and use without IoT, mobile apps, and AI-powered tools. Luckily, through mobile and web applications, IoMT devices constantly read and send real-time information to physicians who can use that data to not only provide treatment avenues but enrich medical research. IoMT is also a gold mine for Big Data collected through wearables and sensors and translated into electronic health records (EHRs) and other digital medical data. Stakeholders can use these data to get vital healthcare analytics and produce data-driven insights. Using these data sets can be extremely valuable to physicians, pharma companies, insurers, and medical institutions. They can leverage their operational processes, speed up decision-making, and deliver medical attention less prone to errors.
Additionally, mobile applications offer other data-capturing capabilities such as user feedback from healthcare apps, biometric data, survey results, gamification, and personal insights gathered, analyzed, and used to support medical decisions and improve health outcomes.
5. Enrich Medical and Pharma Research
Data derived from IoMT devices is vital for medical and pharma research purposes. The massive amounts of data these devices collect and analyze regarding patients’ illnesses and overall health conditions, which would have taken years to collect manually, are now gathered in minutes. Such data-collecting features not only put a wide assortment of medical data at researchers’ disposal but enables real-time clinical trial monitoring. This way, scientists no longer have to wait months to observe trial results. They can now observe side-effects and other health changes as they happen and react accordingly, saving time and resources that are extremely valuable for pharma companies.
Additionally, they can gather analytic feedback from IoMT devices, such as adverse reactions, and aggregate it to their clinical trials in real-time. This feedback can help deliver shorter, more effective trials that are less prone to error and produce more valuable results. IoMT devices also facilitate mobile data-sharing between research groups, doctors, pharma companies, and other healthcare organizations. As a result, discoveries and data about diseases and drugs are available to a wide range of medical groups who can use it to drive more informed decisions. Thus, IoMT has a significant impact on medical research, and as technologies keep evolving, the industry will see the introduction of better medical breakthroughs.
Data Security and Privacy
As with any field that handles sensitive information, data privacy and security are among the most significant concerns IoMT poses. Data protection is a pervasive issue in the medical area, and its relevance only keeps growing as the number of connected devices grows. We can see that this concern is well-founded when we look at the 600 healthcare data breaches that happened last year, which went up 55% from 2019.
Still, data sharing is inherent to IoMT, and it’s an unavoidable aspect of the interconnectivity it provides. Sharing patient data, especially when done through wireless networks, significantly increases vulnerabilities within the system. And, since patients use IoMT devices in their homes in most cases, they are often connected to home Wi-Fi or cellular networks. As that information is transmitted back and forth between the hospital and the patient, it becomes more prone to breaches and compromises the privacy of patients and institutions. Moreover, patients–and often physicians–use their smartphones to connect to IoMT devices, so the devices can get stolen or lost, which exposes the data stored within.
All these factors create challenges within the IoMT universe that can hinder its worldwide adoption. Still, regulations such as HIPAA aim to provide some security concerning medical data sharing and regulate some of the challenges brought on by the introduction of IoMT into the medical space. However, cybersecurity threats are not likely to be entirely eliminated, at least not soon, so institutions must establish security protocols to minimize their risks. They must take a proactive approach to tackle security issues and implement ‘security by design’ processes where devices and mobile solutions are designed with security as an integral part of every step. Also, using AI-powered tools can help developers and medical institutions anticipate and neutralize threats.
As discussed earlier, IoMT devices are a source of unlimited data, which is a good thing but can be counterproductive when said data is not organized and analyzed to produce actionable insight. One study shows that healthcare data will experience a compound annual growth rate of 36% through 2025. The result is a data overload that can affect how institutions operate and jeopardize their decision-making process’s accuracy. And, since an ever-growing number of IoMT devices are introduced every day, the amount of data available from different sources will only keep growing.
The challenge this growth means for doctors is concerning because not all of them have data science knowledge, and most don’t even have the tools to process it. Many hospitals still don’t have the IT infrastructure to store and manage the incoming data, and pharma companies still have to implement the proper protocols and tools. Healthcare apps can receive and interpret most of the information they gather. Still, more sophisticated sources of incoming data, such as MRI machines or surgery monitors, require extra training.
Healthcare organizations must anticipate these challenges to get the most out of the IoMT universe. Data analytics solutions powered by AI are widely available and can handle vast amounts of data. These tools can either be run automatically or by data professionals, which can significantly reduce data confusion and leverage the application of said data to produce clinical results.
Interoperability and Connectivity
As stated earlier, interoperability can be both a benefit and a challenge. It enables the exchange and interpretation of shared data and allows for patient-centric medical care. Nonetheless, in healthcare, interoperability is exceptionally complex and requires seamless connectivity and communication between IoMT devices and established IT systems. Similarly, efficient workflows and data exchange between parties depend on an existing consensus of standards, compatibilities, and protocols.
However, current barriers hamper these connections that lie mainly in the lack of a central integrated governance framework that establishes a benchmark in communications and data sharing among stakeholders. Each hospital or practice has its standards and protocols for medical data sharing and storing that may differ from the rest, making interoperability difficult. Added to this is the lack of incentives for institutions to implement the infrastructure and practices needed to standardize the sector and enable connectivity and interoperability among stakeholders. Hence, many healthcare systems lack the necessary interfaces and structural robustness to share data efficiently and standardize it to promote its widespread use.
IoMT: The Takeaway
IoMT devices have made mobile healthcare and remote patient monitoring a possibility for healthcare systems across the world. They have helped developers and MedTech companies unleash the potential for institutions to bring medical care into an AI-powered future. As a result, physicians are now empowered to deliver excellent medical care with fewer errors and less workload for themselves and the institutions they work for. Patients, on their part, can take a more active role in their treatments. This increases engagement and reduces medication non-adherence, thus improving the chances for successful outcomes. Furthermore, IoMT has opened up limitless opportunities for the healthcare sector to redefine its scope and reach even more people with better and more efficient medical care and research capabilities. Undoubtedly, the IoMT universe, coupled with mobile solutions, has proven to be a driving force in becoming an interconnected healthcare sector.