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Can we expect the Internet of Things in healthcare?

Technology based on the Internet of Things has worked its way onto consumer devices. When can we expect it to cross over to healthcare?

The Internet of Things is not new, but has been gaining more attention and traction lately. The concept of the Internet of Things entails the use of electronic devices that capture or monitor data and are connected to a private or public cloud, enabling them to automatically trigger certain events. One such use case is that of garage-door openers that initiate when the owner's car is nearby or a when the owner sends a command from a mobile device.

The demand for connected devices spans multiple industries including the energy, automotive and consumer spaces. For each of them, the need for devices that can report or react to certain things provides a new level of convenience, efficiency and automation. Healthcare practitioners are closely watching the development of this trend to see if the Internet of Things in will be a part of their future.

Electronic devices have been used to schedule maintenance for cars, or report any trouble areas to a mechanic so they can be addressed. Smart devices can also be used at home, where smart thermostats can collect data about the homeowners' schedule and temperature preference, and adjust it accordingly.

Internet-connected devices have been introduced to patients in various forms. Whether data comes from fetal monitors, electrocardiograms, temperature monitors or blood glucose levels, tracking health information is vital for some patients. Many of these measures require follow-up interaction with a healthcare professional. This creates an opening for smarter devices to deliver more valuable data, lessening the need for direct patient-physician interaction.

Some hospitals have begun implementing "smart beds" that can detect when they are occupied and when a patient is attempting to get up. It can also adjust itself to ensure appropriate pressure and support is applied to the patient without the manual interaction of nurses. Another area where smart technology could be an asset is coupled with home medication dispensers to automatically upload data to the cloud when medication isn't taken or any other indicators for which the care team should be alerted.

Internet of Things technology implementations will likely raise concerns around data privacy and security. While most of today's devices use secure methods to communication information to the cloud, they could still be vulnerable to hackers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers guidelines for medical devices, and regulators will likely continue to regulate connected devices used by patients. While we have yet to see a huge number of adopters of the Internet of Things in healthcare, its popularity is undeniably on the rise in other industries.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email
 editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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This was first published in August 2014

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