Medicine has traditionally been evidence-based where patients are prescribed drugs or given treatment based on proven clinical research. The term “evidence-based medicine” or “EBM” was only coined in the early 90s, but the concept has existed for much longer.
Medical research was traditionally based on studies and clinical trials to find ways to treat symptoms or cure a disease. EBM is the established standard, but that might be about to change forever (mainly because of the new Internet of Things (IoT)).
So what’s changed?
Today, the internet has grown to play a vital role in our daily lives (as we use it for much more than checking emails or shopping). Add smartphones and tablets into the mix and now we have instant access (no matter where we are).
I think it’s safe to say that most of us didn’t really expect these devices to do a whole lot more than connect to the internet and make calls (to be honest, I didn’t). But smart devices have exploded in the marketplace and have started to play a significant role in our daily lives. This in turn has generated a massive amount of data that we now call “Big Data.”
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When I say smart devices, I am talking about more than smartphones and tablets. Although you may not realize it, you might be already using some smart technology at home:
- Home security systems
- Home appliances
- Fitness trackers
- Smart TVs
- Automobiles (devices are machines, so why not!)
These smart devices make up the Internet of Things (IoT). Further, with the emergence of big data, the opportunity to use this technology to transform and enhance healthcare couldn’t be ignored.
As a result, what we have now is the opportunity to build the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).
What is IoMT?
The Internet of Medical Things is basically the collections of connected medical devices that feed medical or patient data into the cloud. IoMT is comprised of applications and medical devices that use online networks to connect to healthcare IT systems.
These medical devices are equipped with Wi-Fi and enable seamless machine-to-machine communication.
- Telemedicine (saves a trip to the doctor if you have a question or change in condition)
- Wearable mHealth devices
- Remote patient monitoring
- Tracking medication orders
- Tracking patients admitted to hospital
- Medication adherence
IoT Medical Devices:
- Asthma inhalers
- Pill bottles
- Smart heart meters
- Blood pressure cuffs
IoMT is possible because of Near Field Communication (NFC) radio frequency identification (RFID) tags (exactly the same technology that drives IoT). These tags enable devices to share data with IT systems.
One of the benefits of RFID tags is the fact that they can be attached to medical supplies and equipment to make it easier for hospitals to keep track of stocks (and yes, we’re already taking advantage of it).
What does it take to build a Robust IoMT System?
For IoMT to cement itself in the future of healthcare, these medical devices need to be extremely user-friendly. If patients can use the device easily, there’s a better chance of achieving mass adoption.
This might seem like a small irrelevant notion, but it’s actually extremely important as without mass adoption, healthcare cannot benefit as a whole.
As a result, IoMT devices will have to accomplish the following:
- The smart medical device must work immediately when it’s in the hands of the patient. If there is a learning curve and assembly involved, mass adoption is highly unlikely.
- The device should look and operate just like its non-connected counterpart.
- The battery should have the longest lifespan possible without recharge or replacement.
Smart connected devices have already proven that they can significantly enhance healthcare rapidly (so expect things to evolve quickly).
In the past, millions of people were susceptible to medication errors, but as a result of barcode-based medication-administration, the numbers have significantly diminished. But wheeling a barcode machine around isn’t the ideal solution. So a good alternative is a smart mobile device like a tablet that will provide the necessary portability to make it work more efficiently.
Before barcodes were incorporated in healthcare, refilling patient prescriptions was time and paper intensive. However, with a system to scan the drug’s barcode with, a mobile health app (with password authentication) can automatically generate an order via the prescription system. You can find evidence of this at Walgreens where 40% of pharmaceutical customers reorder by using a mobile application.
According to a study conducted by JMIR mHealth and uHealth, NFC serialized identifiers for medication has the potential to extend benefits way beyond basic administration of medication to tracking if the drug had a positive impact on the patient.
Access to this medical data will also enable visualization of how diseases spread. As a result, if you don’t track each individual patient, there is no way to perform a reverse clustering analysis to ascertain what was going on.
IoMT is definitely here to stay, but first it will need to overcome a lot of challenges. Some of the obstacles are as follows:
- Patient privacy issues
- Ownership of collected data
- Rigorous system security