Everyone has heard of the Internet of Things (IoT) by now, but you may not yet be aware of the Internet of Medical Things, or as it is sometimes known, the Healthcare IoT. To review a bit, the Internet of Things refers to the vast network of devices, appliances, and vehicles which are all connected via the Internet.
All these devices are equipped with sensors or some kinds of actuators, which allow them to transmit information to the Internet and to each other, for the ultimate purpose of providing data to back-end computers, which can analyze that data and ultimately make recommendations for improvement or efficiency.
The Internet of Medical Things is an extension and specialization of that original IoT concept, and applies to the interconnectedness of devices, software applications, and data which are specific to the medical industry. These devices are generally associated with cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services, so that healthcare data can be analyzed. The goal of communications in this model relates to the various healthcare systems which are connected to the IoMT.
If you’re having trouble visualizing this, you might try thinking of one good example. Let’s say you wear a FitBit to track, among other things, the number of steps you take every day for exercise and for normal movement between locations. This information can be shared with your smartphone, and then sent back to your family doctor on a regular basis.
The information saved and stored can then be used to provide automated reporting to your doctor, and can be analyzed either manually, or via a software program at the destination. You would also have the option to send that information to anyone outside the medical network, for instance family and friends, but that would probably not provide a medical benefit.
What Kinds of Benefits are Provided by the Internet of Medical Things?
As usage of the IoMT grows, there will undoubtedly be more and more innovations made available to users of the system, because there is a considerable body of research and testing underway in this area, even now. There are already a number of benefits that currently make this a highly advantageous system to be using.
- Software and device automation – because the majority of information and devices in this system are automated, there is far less manual intervention, which means a significant decrease in the potential for human error, as well as any intentional mis-reporting of information for fraudulent purposes.
- On-the-spot data recording – as with the FitBit example described above, this kind of system allows for on-the-spot recording of very useful health information, much of which has never before been available. With more accurate and timely data available, it will improve understanding of patient’s conditions, and theoretically lead to better treatment plans.
- Accuracy in patient reporting – when doctors have to rely on feedback from a patient about ‘how you feel’, there is obviously an enormous potential for things to be exaggerated, overlooked, or understated. With accurate data being supplied to a healthcare facility, there can be a much more objective and solid foundation for evaluating patient condition. That process will work in reverse as well, as doctors will be able to monitor a patient’s compliance with recommended procedures and therapies, rather than relying on patient confirmation.
- A ‘learning system’ – since IoMT systems are established on a repetitive feedback loop, it can adjust itself to achieve improved results for patients in the system. In effect, the system will ‘learn’ as it is provided with more and more data.
- More precise diagnosis and prescriptions – medication prescribed for a patient at the present time calls for a specific type of medicine to be taken, after which it is systemically distributed throughout the body, and provides some degree of symptomatic relief. With more accurate data identifying specific areas of the body which require medication, more targeted medication can be delivered to a patient, so that a more effective and localized treatment is achieved. There may still be some side effects associated with localized delivery, but they too should be more localized, and less pervasive in nature for the patient.
Growth of the IoMT
Mirroring the explosive growth of its predecessor model, the IoT, the Internet of Medical Things is undergoing a rapid expansion of services available, because technology is improving on a daily basis, and more options are becoming available. Many more medical devices used by patients and by healthcare facilities are being manufactured with RFID tags which allow those pieces of equipment to connect with I.T. networks for sharing data.
Within the medical facilities themselves, medical supplies can be fitted with these same RFID tags, so that stock can be monitored, and crucial inventory can be re-ordered before supplies run out. Providing benefits within the healthcare facilities, to patients practicing telemedicine at home, and to the medical professionals who can receive much more accurate and timely data, the IoMT seems poised to become a dominant factor in the future of the medical profession.
The one small drawback which is yet to be fully resolved is that of security. With information being exchanged freely between devices and the cloud, there is at least the potential for cyber criminals to exploit the system, and this generally does happen as soon as any new technology becomes popular enough to warrant attention from the criminal-minded.