The Next Evolution of IoT: Healthcare

By Kelly Lemenze, Associate Director of Engagement, FCB Health New York and Nadia Khatri, Engagement Director, FCBCURE

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) didn’t become a widespread concept until the turn of the 21st century, but you can trace the origins of connected devices back as far as the first electric telegraph systems in the 1800s. Inventors like Baron Schilling and Samuel Morse gave life to the concept that two machines could communicate via electrical signals. This idea seeped into different areas with the invention of the internet and later flourished with the introduction of wireless networks. In 1999,  visionary technologist Kevin Ashton coined the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) to describe a network of devices for supply chain management to Proctor and Gamble.1

Today, there are over 50 billion IoT-enabled devices worldwide, connected across an IoT network.2These devices can be linked together to make everyday tasks more manageable—"Hey Alexa, am I out of milk?”—or improve medical care and accuracy. Though the technology has been around for some time, the use cases for IoT are just starting to catch the attention of the healthcare industry.3

Innovation in this space is accelerating, particularly around everyday objects like wearable sensors that can remotely monitor a patient’s vitals, record the data and potentially adjust interactions between physical treatment devices, like pacemakers.4 Moreover, real-time data coupled with solutions like AI can enhance in-person decision-making, bridging the gap between digital and physical treatment options and creating more seamless treatment journeys.5

IoT Applications in Healthcare

The benefits of IoT go beyond the implications of faster processes; improved healthcare outcomes for the patient and cost efficiencies in the long term are also possible. According to Forbes, “The global market for portable and remote patient monitoring has been increasing steadily,” projected to reach nearly $43 billion worldwide by 2027. The integration of real-time data based IoT solutions is already well established, with about 53% of US hospitals actively leveraging remote patient monitoring systems.3

Home as the Health Hub

The shift away from in-person doctor appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of both remote patient monitoring devices and telehealth services, making your own home the new epicenter of healthcare. Doctors and healthcare advisory organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged patients to continue remote health monitoring to minimize the risk of exposure throughout the pandemic.6

Telemedicine, which was first used in the 1960s to provide remote healthcare monitoring to NASA astronauts in space7, saw an enormous uptick during the pandemic and has stabilized at a 3800% increase when compared to usage pre-pandemic, after settling from a jaw-dropping 7900% increase in April 2020. Some specialties, such as psychiatry, are still using telemedicine for as many as 50% of their outpatient/office visit claims.In-home monitoring devices are helping to take this growing percentage of telehealth appointments beyond simple virtual calls by facilitating the transfer of relevant medical data from patients’ connected devices directly to doctors’ electronic patient medical records.

Connected Devices

In 2021, the average US household had 25 connected devices, an almost 230% increase from 2019.9 When you think of home healthcare, it’s easy to jump to wearables, such as Apple Watches or Oura Rings. These step-tracking, calorie-counting devices are relatively familiar luxuries these days. Connected fitness equipment like Peloton, Mirror and NordicTrack have also become household names.

But imagine a world where you can complete a colonoscopy in the comfort of your own home. Scientists in Australia have already completed Phase I clinical trials of the Atmo Gas Capsule, a potential diagnostic tool for an array of gastrointestinal disorders.10 What about a thermometer that alerts you when the flu is sweeping through your neighborhood? Data collected from Kinsa’s smart thermometers and free companion app is anonymously aggregated via HealthWeather to notify you when you may be at risk.11

Walk the Walk

Whether you’re entering brand planning, or brainstorming novel approaches, consider how you can leverage the internet of medical things to create a more seamless and connected healthcare experience. Could a wearable device and companion app that records health data bridge disease burden perceptions between patients and HCPs? Would a sensor help increase accurate diagnoses or improve adherence metrics? What can you offer to tackle brand challenges, help address community needs, make quality care more accessible, and, ultimately, foster a deeper relationship between a brand and its audiences?

Limitations

As with any new technology, there are limitations around IoT. Of the most common concerns, privacy is the biggest for IoT due to the need for health data and otherwise personal data collection, but it can be actively addressed by using HIPAA-compliant infrastructure.12 Additionally, accessibility remains a concern for any internet-based solution, which assumes that the users have access to the internet in the first place.13 Without a reliable internet connection, data might be lost, incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise unusable. Fortunately, more than 88.5% of the US population has access to the internet, and government-sponsored programs like “Get Internet“ aim to increase that number even more.14

Similarly, costs associated with IoT devices can inhibit adoption within the broader community, but concepts like Moore’s Law explain that over time, as more manufacturers create competing devices, the cost of buying these devices decreases. Finally, varying practices in the medical field might affect the use of IoT device data, though leading organizations such as oneM2M have set standards and continue to address evolving needs.15

 

1 The IoT history and future, The electrical telegraph text messaging system

2 Oracle, What is IOT?

3 How IOT is Transforming Healthcare

4 How the IoMT is impacting Medical Care

Why the IoMT is the Future of Healthcare

Remote monitoring device acceptance has increased

The History of Remote Monitoring

8 Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?

9 Smart devices more than doubled in US homes amid COVID pandemic

10 Atmos Biosciences

11 Kinsa Health

12 Ways to secure the IoMT:

13 Both advantages and limitations of IoMT

14 Global internet users

15 The global community that develops standards for IoT