A confluence of situations has created challenges in the healthcare system that are fueling inefficiencies and making it difficult for healthcare providers to keep up with patient needs. They include an aging population, high cost of services, extensive administrative workloads, physician burnout, and a lagging IT infrastructure. But, these are not insurmountable challenges, considering the availability of new, digital healthcare technologies that can change how healthcare is delivered.
Simply explained, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of devices leveraging network connectivity to collect, deliver, and exchange information. In healthcare, sensors embedded in a variety of medical devices collect and deliver data to support healthcare operations and medical decision making. That data exchange can include any combination of data sources and recipients, including patients, providers, insurers, employers, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, research organizations, and more.
The idea is that, by unifying the connected health ecosystem of devices, data, applications, communications tools, and users through a connected health platform, all the entire patient care delivery network can have access to the information they need, when they need it. The data can help each of those constituencies improve the healthcare industry in their own ways – by improving care access, driving communications and care coordination, creating new back-office efficiencies, supporting new medical research, or developing new healthcare programs and initiatives.
Globally, the healthcare IoT market is projected to grow from $113.7 billion in 2019 to $332.7 billion by 2027. IoT sensors embedded in a variety of devices – from wearable health sensors to hospital beds – are a key to connected health programs that can help create new operational efficiencies and improve healthcare delivery in many ways.
Connected devices deliver data that can be instrumental in not only assessing individual patient conditions, but on a larger scale, can be used by physicians, researchers, governments, and other organizations to analyze health trends and develop better treatments. Patient data can be used to better understand conditions, response to treatment, and as we have learned over the past year, help identify and predict outbreaks, allowing rapid response to try to contain them. As more data is collected, opportunities for enhancing individual and population health can grow.
IoT is a critical part of remote patient monitoring solutions, which can enable physicians to track patient progress remotely, rather than requiring repeated office visits to collect health data. Not only can RPM enable data to be collected more frequently, reducing the number of office visits can help cut costs.
Post-discharge monitoring can reduce the length of hospital stays as well as the chances of readmission, since physicians may be able to intervene more quickly to address issues or adjust treatment. For instance, one Boston hospital reported reducing readmissions for congestive heart failure patients by more than 50% using RPM devices to monitor changes in weight, heart rate, movement, sleep, and blood pressure.
In addition, in hospital settings, RPM solutions can help reduce nurse workloads because they can monitor patients from a central location. In addition to making monitoring easier – including the use of automated alerts when attention is required – this can free up more time to work directly with other patients, potentially helping them get discharged faster, which, in turn, can open space for new patients. Importantly, it can all happen while helping to ensure high quality care.
Enhanced Patient Care
In addition to potential cost savings, wearables and other connected devices can help drive increased communication and care coordination between patients and their providers. With more patient health data available, physicians can understand patient conditions better, react to changes in conditions more quickly, and communicate effectively through their connected health platforms. Patients, too, may be more amenable to recurring telehealth interactions, knowing they are able to receive better care without having to travel to physicians’ office. The combination of IoT-enabled devices, automation, and digital communications channels can collectively create a better patient experience and keep patients more involved in their overall health.
Medical Equipment Management
Hospitals, emergency departments, walk-in clinics, and other providers all have countless physical assets that can often be difficult to locate. IoT sensors can help simplify tracking of these devices, making them easier to locate, reducing wait times and helping to expedite patient treatment. In addition, analytics engines can help predict need and availability of equipment, making planning easier to help ensure the right equipment is available when and where it’s needed. Automated diagnostics can even predict potential equipment failures, allowing problems to be addressed proactively to maximize equipment availability.
Because data from IoT-enabled connected health devices is digitally collected and delivered, it can be sent to all necessary parties, allowing easier collaboration between physicians, specialists, insurers, patients, family members, and anyone else involved in the patient care continuum. Connected health solutions can enable providers to access data from anywhere and share it easily with colleagues for collaborative care purposes – such as for second opinions or when multiple specialists are treating patients. Even patients and family members can access patient data through patient portals, helping them keep track of progress or changing conditions.
It’s no secret that virtual care has seen significant growth during the past year, and there’s no question it has created a greater awareness of how connected health can enable better, more convenient, and more effective care. But, IoT sensors and connected devices are a key component of broader connected health programs. Combined with virtual care, remote patient monitoring, asset tracking, and other applications of sensor data can help increase overall efficiency within healthcare environments, reducing the burden on physicians and staff and creating better overall healthcare experiences for patients.
To learn more about how connected health platforms combined with IoT-enabled devices and sensors can improve healthcare delivery and patient outcomes, visit us here.