Your thermostat has an app. So does your doorbell. Your refrigerator can show you a digital display of what’s inside, while pulling up your favorite recipes using those items. There are even dog collars with built-in GPS trackers. The Internet of Things (IoT) reaches deep into a wide span of everyday products. In fact, there’s little, if anything, that doesn’t boast an internet-enabled version. The ability to connect through the internet has even expanded to cover health and wellness. The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), as you might expect, presents a mixture of pros and cons.
What Is It?
The IoMT bridges computer technology with health IT applications and medical devices. In layman’s terms, this is your Apple Watch doubling as a heart rate monitor. It’s your mobile phone interacting with your glucose monitor. It’s the medical devices that allow your healthcare practitioner to monitor you from home. It also extends to devices that are based in clinical settings, which can span from patient monitoring systems to recordkeeping. These are just some of the examples of IoMT devices in use today.
Challenges of IoMT
As with any new technology, IoMT presents a series of challenges that we must overcome. Let’s be clear: These challenges are not insurmountable, nor do they outweigh the benefits we’ll discuss shortly. These are weakness, however, that product developers are going to have to improve before widespread medical use is realized.
To begin with, the lack of interoperability is a factor. With devices operating within proprietary structures, the ability to share information between patient and provider(s) is limited. Heart health data collected on your wearables should be able to be downloaded to the EHR system your doctor’s office uses. The post-surgical data your specialists are tracking via remote monitoring should be easily connected to your primary care physician’s records. Today, a lack of standards impedes this cross-connectivity. A move to a new set of standards that allows interoperability will improve this.
Connected devices are inherently a cybersecurity risk. Until device makers focus on this and make mitigating the risk of data breeches a priority, IoMT adoption may be hindered. This category goes beyond the fitness tracker on your wrist. Connected devices include pacemakers, implanted defibrillators, and insulin pumps, as well as hospital-based equipment. With these devices, cybersecurity becomes a matter of patient safety. Similarly, the same issues with insecure remote access that cause some to pause over security concerns, can present challenges to HIPAA, as well.
Strengths of IoMT
The benefits of IoMT make the efforts to overcome or mitigate the above-mentioned challenges worth pursuing. Devices that track our vitals, monitor various health and wellness markers, and even remind us to stick to our prescribed medications can improve patient experiences and outcomes while simultaneously keeping costs in check. For example, the combination of an aging baby boomer generation and a shortage of healthcare providers can stress our already taxed healthcare system. IoMT devices are a natural fit for telehealth solutions that increase access by circumventing geographic barriers to care.
Goldman Sachs estimates IoMT devices will reduce healthcare costs by $300 billion. Being able to effectively remote-monitor decreases hospital admissions. Reduced cost of care is a natural byproduct of this. In addition, the function of hospital-based connected devices can be more effectively monitored, which can help reduce downtime and the costs associated with it. IoMT devices, as previously noted, can improve patient adherence, which has a positive impact on overall healthcare costs.
Further, with interoperability challenges resolved, IoMT would give providers access to more accurate data than traditional patient reporting methods in use today. Did you complete your prescribed physical therapy exercises today? Did you complete each exercise properly? IoMT devices can collect precise data to answer these questions, helping physicians track patient adherence, and amend the course of treatment as needed.
Of course, as the technology evolves, the benefits and the challenges of IoMT will evolve as well. What we do know is this: The IoMT will play a key role in the future of healthcare, and the more time, energy, and resources we devote to this category of technology, the more benefits we will achieve.