The IoT is already having an impact on healthcare – Gartner predicts IoT devices targeted at specific industries, including the healthcare sector, will make up a large portion of all IoT spending in 2016. By 2020, it anticipates over 20 billion connected 'things' will be active around the globe, up from 6.4 billion today.
One area where this is expected to bring about big changes is private healthcare. As market intelligence firm Tractica found, much of the development in healthcare technology is driven by a desire to reduce costs. In Australia, where everyone is entitled to private health insurance at the same price irrespective of their health history, private healthcare providers are facing a potential funding crisis as they treat an ageing population.
Connected healthcare devices promise to help curb rising healthcare costs by automating a raft of health measurement and reporting procedures, such as monitoring of glucose levels, blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm; even the developing foetus. Typically, these devices will feed into cloud-based healthcare applications that healthcare providers can use to remotely monitor their patients.
As many of these measurements still require professional follow-up, there is an incentive for such devices to deliver better data for the fast-growing field of healthcare analytics in order to reduce the number of doctor-patient visits needed. One Australian company is trialling smartbands that keep track of elderly patients' location, blood pressure, brain activity and blood oxygen levels to help clinicians better understand how age-related health issues can affect mobility.
Protecting patient health and safety
The increased flow of information through the IoT can also bring some security risks and vulnerabilities that health IT professionals will need to address. These can range from identity theft to device hacks that can harm the patient's health and safety. A recent security breach in Austria saw two patients uncover how to log into their infusion pumps and increase their pain medication, leading to respiratory problems. As take-up of connected healthcare devices increases, technology companies will need to work closely with private healthcare providers to find ways to detect and prevent such occurrences.
The healthcare IoT has the potential to cut costs and improve efficiency for every kind of private health practitioner, from specialists to home carers. And with personal health devices such as fitness trackers and calorie counters joining the party, it promises to pave the way to a much healthier future.
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