Healthcare offers a variety of opportunities for connected technologies to improve the quality of healthcare delivery while driving efficiencies that can lead to savings for the consumer. Health monitor devices such as Fitbit have gained wide acceptance and opened the door for other types of connected devices for improving patient outcomes. Connecting mobile hospital equipment such as heart monitors, IV pumps and other patient care devices can enable hospital staff to know the location and status of each piece of equipment that they have available, while remote health and monitoring can extend the reach of medical professionals to rural and other underserved areas.
The high cost of health care delivery in the US continues to be a top public concern. A recent JAMA study estimated that 30% of healthcare spending could be considered waste (approx. $760B). While administrative costs are a major issue, much of the waste is due to inefficiency in delivery. As one example, it is estimated that hospital nurses spend as much as an hour per 8-hour shift simply trying to locate usable equipment and supplies. At the same time, studies show that the overall quality of healthcare in the US is dropping, especially in underserved areas.
IoT technologies can improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. Much of the current development activity is focused on these areas:
Asset Tracking and Monitoring
Locating equipment that is accessible, available and maintained is a continuous challenge for healthcare professionals. IoT solutions can bring location and status information directly to devices carried by nurses, doctors, technicians and staff. This same system can also support predictive maintenance, directing technicians to service devices when they need it as opposed to on some pre-defined schedule.
An important component of Asset Tracking is “cold-chain” tracking, the management of transport and storage of heat/cold sensitive vaccines and serums. Traditionally done with simple RFID tags, implementing connected devices in cold chain systems will provide improved accountability and validation of the entire transport system.
Improved Patient Outcomes
Patient outcomes is a significant metric which includes the rate of re-admittance. Monitoring a patient for vital signs over an interval of time when the patient presents symptoms that are inconclusive can improve diagnoses and treatment planning, especially when a patient suffers from a variety of illnesses or a rare or complex disorder. Patients who undergo a procedure can similarly be monitored for specific indicators of complications that could lead to re-admittance. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) weights readmittance as over 20% of a hospital’s annual Star rating score for performance. This is a critical metric for hospitals, as Medicare/Medicaid patients use these ratings to select a hospital for their care.
Increased Patient Engagement
Increasing patient engagement can become a driving factor in improving patient outcomes. Connected Health, or “wearables” can involve patients directly in the management of their medication and treatments. Remote monitoring after release from a hospital produces data that is more accurate and timely than that produced by daily follow-up visits from trained caregivers. In addition, collecting post-procedure data while the patient is at home or at work can give medical providers and insurers a more holistic perspective on the patient’s well-being. The net effect is to empower the patient with control over his or her healthcare.
Telemedicine applications, also known as remote healthcare and monitoring, are opening up because of Federal Government moves to encourage deployment to rural areas sparsely covered by medical professionals. Medicare/Medicaid has increased re-imbursement for telemedicine services, more funds have been made available for deployment, and the Veterans Administration has removed certain restrictions on doctors, nurses and other clinicians which will allow them to diagnose and treat across state lines. These moves affect mainly the elderly, a significant and highly pro-active part of the population, and they can be considered a driver for the way that healthcare will be delivered to the rest of the population.
Safety and Compliance
Remote monitoring of IoT devices that a patent uses regularly can increase patient safety in the elderly and recent post-procedure patients. Patients receiving chemical-related therapies can have specific vital signs monitored while at home, at work or while commuting to measure the effect different environments might have, and provide real-time alerts if the data falls outside of preset boundaries. The patient can then receive immediate instructions for mitigating the issue or reporting in for treatment before an emergency exists.
IoT Technology and methods can provide value in the healthcare delivery system. Many facilities already have acceptable connectivity, and many connected devices have general purpose operating systems and capable communications interfaces. Edge computing and event-driven network processes can provide structure and meaning to these data without overwhelming existing transport systems. Post-analysis facilities that use these data can provide insight into global and national health trends, helping authorities react to developing situations before they become crises. IoT deployment across healthcare systems worldwide can have a substantial positive impact on global health.