Connecting medical devices to networks — and to patients — is becoming big business. Experts forecast the Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT, market will exceed $136.8 billion by 2021. But that’s not the best part.
What is truly exciting are the benefits IoMT offers doctors and, more importantly, their patients. Faster and more-accurate diagnoses, more-efficient delivery of healthcare services, and reduced costs are only a few of the ways medical IoT technology will benefit the sector.
In this article, we examine the benefits and challenges of IoMT in healthcare, and we look at the technology behind it.
What is Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
First, a definition may be in order for those unfamiliar with IoMT.
IoMT is a submarket of the Internet of Things (IoT), from which several subsets of the technology have evolved.
Where IoT refers to all web-enabled devices, from smart cars to Internet-enabled kitchen appliances, IoMT includes only medical devices that have Internet connectivity.
IoMT technology enables virtually any medical device to collect, analyse, and send data across the Web. Not only can digital devices, such as heart monitors, be connected to the Internet, but so can non-digital items like hospital beds and pills.
Yes, pills. But more on that in a moment.
Essentially, IoMT lets medical equipment and healthcare products share data in real time, and with everyone who has a legitimate need for the information. Here is a breakdown of where IoMT is finding applications.
In-Hospitals and Clinics
As you might expect, hospitals and clinics are the greatest users of IoMT devices. As we will discuss shortly, IoMT can improve healthcare quality while reducing cost — a business model care providers find very attractive.
Patient monitoring is not the only application IoMT finds in hospitals and clinics. MRIs, X-ray machines, CT scanners, and other equipment can be remotely monitored for performance issues. Long before hospital staff notices a problem, the manufacturer or service vendor can detect issues that need to be corrected.
GE, Siemens, Philips, and other companies use IoMT for remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, and performance upgrades to their imaging products.
Medical connectivity technology, also called telemedicine, extends healthcare services beyond the walls of the hospital.
Remote Patient Monitoring (RTM) enables many patients suffering from chronic disease to avoid frequent visits to the doctor. Heart patients and diabetics, in particular, can benefit from RTM technology. Portable RTM devices can monitor patients’ heart activity and glucose levels, and automatically alert the doctor when there is a problem.
Virtual Home Assistants are valuable additions to the home for many elderly patients. These intelligent devices interact with the patient, remind them to take medications, and can be accessed remotely by family and physicians.
Advances in biosensor technology make possible wearable smart devices that monitor the user’s health. Weather embedded in apparel, attached to the skin, or implanted, on-the-body IoMT sensors give patients freedom, while maintaining close watch on their health conditions.
IoMT is built upon a number of technologies, including advanced sensors, IoT connectivity, and artificial Intelligence (AI). Let’s take a brief look at each to see how they work.
The decreasing cost of sensor technology has empowered IoMT device manufacturers to build economical connected healthcare products.
Biosensors make up a healthy chunk of the IoMT product marketplace, with market revenue expected to exceed $29 billion by 2024. These advanced devices rely on a biological material and sensor to detect characteristics of blood, respiration, tissue, and other parts of the body.
Non-biological medical sensors can measure body temperature, motion, electrical activity of the heart and muscles, and other patient characteristics.
Sensing a patient’s health factors is only part of IoMT. For the data to be useful, it must be accessible by computers and people.
IoMT manufacturers use a vast array of communications protocols to get IoMT data from point A to point B. However, they all accomplish the same objective — getting the IoMT data onto the Internet. Once there, any authorized person or computer can access the data and use it to help provide care for the patient.
Whether an in-home glucose monitor, or an emergency room heart monitor, IoMT devices transmit their data to a near-by network. This first point of contact for an IoMT device might be a home wifi connection, a cellular phone network, or a hospital medical IT network. Eventually, IoMT data usually makes its way into a database, which can be accessed from the Internet.
Since each IoMT device has a unique IP address, there is little chance of getting the data from all the devices mixed up.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI will play an increasingly-important role in IoMT. With the number of IoMT devices slated to top 20 to 30 billion by 2020, the ability to process all that data is crucial to the success of the technology.
AI software is able to intelligently sort through a torrent of data from IoMT devices, and provide medical practitioners only with data that needs their attention. As the market grows, AI will be the silent partner doctors will come to rely on to keep them informed, but not overwhelmed.
Advantages of IoMT
Whether or not the healthcare industry needed a shot in the arm, it got one. Connecting all things medical delivers huge payoffs. Healthcare providers, insurers, and patients all benefit from what IoMT has to offer.
One of the greatest benefits that Internet of Things medical devices provide is the ability for doctors to access patient health data in realtime. Rather than having to visit a patient’s room or call their nurse, a busy cardiologist can view a patient’s heart monitor readings right on his or her smartphone. Doctors can even view medical images as soon as they are taken—from across the hospital or halfway around the world.
IoMT allows insurers to view patient data more quickly, too, making claims processing faster and more accurate.
And patients can view their own data, using online patient portals.
Low Per-Patient Cost
Goldman Sachs estimates IoMT will save the healthcare industry $300 billion. The reasons for their optimism are clear.
Since IoMT allows for faster access to inpatient data, operational efficiency is greatly improved. Rather than time spent relaying patient information to the doctor, a nurse can spend their time doing more important things.
Further, faster data access means faster data analysis, quicker diagnosis and treatment. The sooner patients can receive the treatment they need, the sooner they can go home.
RTM systems reduce cost by letting patients stay home and have fewer office visits.
Finally — and the value of this benefit cannot be overstated, remote monitoring lets doctors detect and treat issues before they become more serious.
Fast Per-Patient Implementation
IoMT devices are designed to be fast and easy to implement. Small, wireless IoMT sensors even allow patients and healthy individuals to check their own vitals.
We mentioned how IoMT saves cost by improving efficiency. But cost is not the only benefit, here. Wait time is the #1 complaint patients have regarding medical office visits. The same is also likely regarding visiting the emergency room.
Improving efficiency results in an improved patient experience, which should always be a top goal for providers.
Challenges of Implementing IoMT
Like most technologies, IoMT brings both advantages and disadvantages to the table.
We have explored the many benefits IoMT offers, but for those benefits to be fully realized, the industry must overcome some obstacles.
High Infrastructure Cost
We mentioned the low per-patient cost of implementation earlier. Indeed, dropping sensor prices and mass production of IoMT devices makes it economical to provide a device for a patient who need it.
On the other hand, the cost of building the IoMT infrastructure is enormous. Dedicated IoMT IT networks, blockchains, and cloud platforms are all necessary for this thing to be done right. And while the long-term ROI is a no-brainer, the initial cost for setting up such systems is significant.
Those costs will be divided between hardware, infrastructure, apps, and training.
In the end, adoption will occur. It has to and it will. In the meantime, the transition from legacy systems to IoMT will take time, planning, and cash.
IoMT Security Vulnerabilities
Nothing stands in the way of IoMT adoption more than security concerns. Nor is there a greater threat to the long-term viability of IoT solutions in healthcare.
With literally hundreds of millions of patient medical records already compromised by medical data breaches, security must be on par with quality of care for industry goals.
The success of cybercriminals in the pre-IoMT era raises a chilling question: If the medical industry could not successfully secure its data before full adoption of IoMT, how will it do so once even more data is made accessible to the web?
The solutions — whatever they turn out to be — must include security-centric workflow processes, solid data breach response plans, and continuous investment in cyber-defense technology.
As it appears at this time, blockchain technology offers the only framework robust enough to meet IoMT security challenges.
Strain on Existing Networks
Building the IoMT infrastructure does not mean bringing IoMT devices into the hospital and logging them into the facility wifi. Many existing hospital networks are neither robust enough nor secure enough to handle a fully-implemented IoMT system.
To be ready for the additional data connected devices dump into the network, the IT backbone and all supporting components must be fast, secure, and scalable.
Transfering GUI interfaces, storage, and certain data processes to a cloud environment can dramatically reduce the burden on the legacy IT system. Further, the more data resides in the cloud, the less chance it will be compromised.
As the IoMT industry ramps up, we expect to see healthcare-based Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platforms emerge to serve this nascent market.
Lack of Standardization
The lack of standardization among IoMT manufactures is a problem. With scores of communications protocols, devices from different manufacturers frequently are not
interoperable. That is, they will not work out of the box with every IT system, or with each other. And combining devices with multiple standards on the same network greatly reduces security and system stability.
Although industry alliances and coalitions are working to improve the problem, one could argue that not enough is being done soon enough. As with certain other technologies, manufacturers continue to build non-standardized products, and the market is the loser.
As we will see in a moment, the U.S. lags behind Europe in legislative efforts toward IoMT standards. However, government support of industry efforts is strong.
Next to banking, no industry appears to need more oversight than healthcare. Even in countries where socialized healthcare exists, IoMT standards are lacking.
Clearly, IoMT, and IoT in general, represents a new frontier for legislators.
In the United States, past government oversight of healthcare was directed towards drug and procedure approvals, and patient privacy rights.
Current U.S. legislation speaks to standards for security of Patient Health Information (PHI), and defining what constitutes a medical device. Specific laws that compel manufacturers to build interoperable products are sorely lacking.
Europe has several laws on the books that regulate medical devices, just none that requires standardization.
In reality, it would be best if the IoMT industry would mature their levels of cooperation and work toward standards on their own. If they can’t or won’t, regulation may be necessary if smart hospitals are going to become a reality.
Examples of IoMT Companies and Devices
Despite the lack of communications standards for medical IoT devices, there is no lack of manufacturers to innovate in this new market.
Here are but a few companies that make IoMT devices.
Abilify MyCite was approved in November by the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration. The smart pill contains an aripiprazole tablet for treating schizophrenia, and a smart sensor. Once the bill is swallowed and enters the stomach, the sensor sends a signal to a smartphone app, indicating when that the pill was taken. The approval paves the way for other medications to contain similar sensors.
eVisit is a telemedicine platform that enables doctors to conduct examinations and prescribe remedies for their patients by remote.
Amiko.IO focuses on providing products for respiratory disease management, complete with an AI-powered platform.
InfoBionic’s MoMe Kardia provides remote monitoring of cardiac arrhythmia.
PillCamTM , by Medtronic, is a line of swallowable capsules that allow visualisation of the esophagus, stomach, small bowel, and colon. The imaging data is transmitted to an external viewer for analysis by the physician.
The nascent IoMT market is ripe for innovation. Despite the challenges, the high R&D cost for IoT infrastructure comes with an even greater ROI.
That’s where Ignite Outsourcing comes in.
We provide outsource technology solutions on a number of fronts, including IoMT. We are experienced in IoMT software development, cyber security, cloud-based platforms, and AI.
Why not contact us today for a no-cost consultation?