There’s a new revolution going on in healthcare today, and it’s being driven by the Internet of Things. Whether it’s through a sensor-laden pill that transmits health data to doctors after ingestion or a home-monitoring device that tracks a baby’s breathing patterns, the IoT has already started to transform the healthcare and medical device industries.
It’s a trend that’s accelerating fast. According to a new report, 80 million fitness and sports-related wearable devices are expected to ship by 2020. Healthcare-focused wearables already account for 34 million shipments.
As these smart health devices continue their ascent, the impact on health and medicine will be staggering. Doctors will be able to save more lives by getting fast access to the patient information they need, from medical history to updated heart rate and blood pressure readings. Patients, meanwhile, will be able to get healthier by ensuring that their health conditions are being constantly monitored.
And as the growth of IoT device in healthcare continues, you will no doubt have many new opportunities to develop potentially lifesaving software for health and medical devices.
Better Care From the Hospital to the Home
There are already many innovative connected health devices being used across the globe. Here are some of the more interesting offerings:
- Smart medicine dispensers. Increasingly, doctors and patients are tracking prescription medication compliance through smart dispensers that are designed to eliminate medication sorting and dispensing errors. One such device is an ingestible pill sensor from Proteus. The sensor, powered by contact with stomach fluid, communicates a signal that can determine when a patient last took a medication—and the specific type of medication. The data is transferred to a patch on the patient’s skin.
- Fall-preventing shoes. Manufacturer B-Shoe Technologies plans to launch the B-Shoe, which uses sensors embedded in shoes to detect stumbles and gait changes, helping elderly people maintain their balance. When a motion device senses that the person has lost their balance, it gently rolls the shoe backward to immediately improve balance.
- Heart health monitors. There are a variety of heart health devices on the market, including theAliveCor, an iPhone case with built-in sensors connected to an app. When fingers are placed on the sensors, heart rate data is transmitted to the app. Another device—the Medtronic CareLink network—allows patients to connect their pacemakers to a home monitoring instrument that in turn connects via phone to a doctor who can analyze the data. The doctor can then detect pacemaker problems before they occur.
- Baby monitors. We’ve come a long way from the traditional walkie-talkie-like infant monitor. Now, with the help of devices like the Mimo monitor, parents can use their smartphones to monitor their baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing, and body position. Warnings are automatically transmitted to the phone if something is wrong.
- Intelligent toilets. Yes, even toilets are getting smarter. While they continue to serve their usual purpose, they’re also being used to monitor your health. Sensors embedded in toilet bowls can be used to connect via tablet or smartphone app and relay important health data directly to your doctor. This information can include everything from early pregnancy detection to the presence of bacterial infections.
- Micro cameras. Some doctors are using micro cameras that come in the form of edible pills, allowing for remote observation and diagnosis of problems without the need for surgery.
- Patient identification and tracking. For better identification and tracking of patients, remote monitoring products like the BodyGuardian Remote Monitoring System can separate patient ID information and health observation data.
- Continuous glucose monitors. For diabetes patients, tiny implanted devices or skin patches can be used to monitor blood sugar, movement, or skin temperature, and to update an insulin pump so it adjusts the glucose dosage accordingly.
Applying the Brakes
Although it’s exciting to think about all the healthcare-related apps you might be working on in the near future, your enthusiasm might be tempered by the snail-like pace of the industry. In general, healthcare can be slow to adopt new technologies, and the IoT is certainly no exception. In fact, a recent Gartner report suggests that it will take 5–10 years for the industry to fully adopt the IoT.
Why the slow speed? Much of the problem stems from the fact that many new medical devices require FDA approval, which means regulations and red tape can delay new products. As a result, some larger, influential companies have been hesitant to enter the healthcare device and IoT market.
Tackling the Security Problem
Not surprisingly, security is another major concern. A new report by Intel Security and the Atlantic Council shows that security breaches in networked medical devices are growing and could threaten to undermine IoT healthcare technology development.
Another report, which specifically addresses smart baby monitors, revealed that several leading Internet-connected monitors lack basic security features and are vulnerable to hackers. The research showed that some monitors didn’t have encrypted data streams or other mobile features.
Making It Easy
Ease of use is another challenge you’ll face in developing software for connected health devices. Doctors and patients alike won’t want to spend a lot of time learning or installing software for a device—they’ll expect an out-of-the-box experience, so they can focus as quickly as possible on monitoring health. When it comes to development, there’s a real concern that information overload could be a barrier to adoption.
So how can you address these concerns about speed, security, and ease of use? As we’ve said before, it’s all about getting everything right from the beginning and that’s easier when you use a service like Golgi. By making sure these challenges are addressed up front, you’ll be on the right path to building and delivering the best possible connected health app or device.
The importance of such a strategy is backed up by the report from Intel Security and the Atlantic Council mentioned above. The authors state that security needs to be built into medical devices and their networks from the outset, not as an afterthought.
We couldn’t agree more.