When we hear the term digital health, a few things come to mind. We think of wearables, sensors, health apps, artificial intelligence and everything in between. But in reality, it’s much more. Digital health is about applying transformation using innovative technologies to deliver healthcare services, improve efficiency and provide a better quality of care for patients. Let’s explore the importance of digital health, the different factors driving its growth as well as the benefits of IoT in healthcare.
The importance of digital health
Over the last few years, the role of digital health has played a key role for both care providers and patients. Today’s innovations in healthcare have made a huge impact on the entire healthcare industry and have driven us to embrace key digital health trends. Among these trends is the use of connected health solutions such as smart sensors, wearable medical devices, and smart health monitoring systems. These solutions are designed to improve patient treatment and provide accurate and efficient health tracking for both patients and physicians.
The growing popularity of IoT in healthcare and medical fields has also driven the growth of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) which is defined as the combination of medical devices and applications that can connect to health care information technology systems using networking technologies. An example of IoMT is remote patient monitoring. Patients equipped with a wireless medical device (i.e. blood glucose monitor) can not only track their health vitals at home, but the data is transferred to their physician for further monitoring and analysis.
Before IoT, a patient’s interaction with their physician was limited to phone calls and in-person visits. The ability to remotely monitor a patient’s health and make appropriate health recommendations was non-existent. Now, the widespread adoption of IoT enabled smart and connected devices and solutions are being used to deliver real-time data to doctors to help diagnose diseases, track chronic health conditions and reduce the need for in-person visits between doctors and patients.
By gathering more data on the key markers of health, from blood glucose levels to blood pressure, the hope is that digital health will allow us to significantly improve our long term health, reducing our need for frequent doctor visits. Digital health tools can help identify new illnesses and/or help us manage existing ones. By enabling doctors to step in earlier during the course of a disease, digital health tools could help shorten the length and even help ease symptoms before they get worse. Not only could digital health help improve our quality of life, but it could also reduce the total cost for providers and patients.
The Key Drivers of IoT in Healthcare
The demand for IoT based healthcare solutions is driven by two major growth drivers: cost and the widespread adoption of IoT tools and connected devices. IoT healthcare solutions can significantly lower healthcare costs by reducing hospital readmissions and streamlining operations. For example, by using IoT solutions and connected medical devices, physicians can monitor a patient remotely and have access to real-time data allowing them to make informed, evidence-based decisions, reducing unnecessary doctor visits and readmissions. The proliferation of connected medical devices, as well as advancements in healthcare technology, have allowed today’s physicians to focus on a patient-centric approach to healthcare to deliver the best quality of care.
The widespread adoption of connected devices and digital health systems have allowed today’s hospitals and care facilities to reduce operational costs and improve efficiency. For example, manual processes such as writing down a patient’s vitals are now completely automated thanks to advanced medical software tools, allowing care staff to focus on patient care. Furthermore, doctors are using wireless communication tools and online video conferences to build stronger relationships with their patients and eliminate the need for any unnecessary in-person visits.
Key benefits of IoT in healthcare
Making healthcare more affordable: With the help of digital healthcare solutions, IoT can easily automate the workflow of patient care. For instance, it can enable the machine to machine communication, interoperability, data movement, and information exchange that allows healthcare providers to deliver accurate and timely patient care. Moreover, technology-driven solutions reduce the extra costs by minimizing unnecessary patient visits and allow for better allocation of medical staff.
Improved patient treatment: Physicians can make informed, evidence-based decisions with absolute transparency. Diseases (acute or chronic) can be diagnosed earlier or before symptoms appear. With access to much of their health data, patients are also better informed about their conditions and can take an active role in managing their health more effectively.
Drug and equipment management: IoT devices tagged with sensors are used for tracking the real-time location of medical equipment such as wheelchairs, defibrillators, oxygen pumps and other medical equipment. These IoT connected devices can also help in asset management like pharmacy inventory control, and environmental monitoring such as refrigerator temperature and humidity control to ensure medications are safely stored in the proper conditions.
Improving the relationship between healthcare payers and patients: By equipping consumers with IoT enabled medical devices, underwriters have a better understanding of what an individual’s daily health status looks like rather than analyzing long and often complicated historical data. With this wealth of information, underwriters now have access to health data from specific time intervals that used to be non-existent in health records and claims. Enabling IoT in underwriting helps to reduce overall costs of the payer by better understanding what each new member will cost them. Additionally, it prevents lower-risk members from being improperly marked as high-risk based on inaccurate health information and it reduces an underwriters’ time spent on unnecessary medical underwriting.
Clearly, IoT is gradually transforming the healthcare sector, in the same way it has opened up possibilities in industries such as manufacturing and financial services all promising a range of benefits for practitioners and patients alike. While IoT can’t solve every problem in the medical industry, it has proven itself as a solution for many of the challenges faced in healthcare today.