Even though the healthcare industry is often reticent to adopt new technology, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) was already starting to alter the field of medicine radically before COVID-19 hit. Well, to adapt an old aphorism, necessity is the mother of innovation. COVID-19 has obliterated whatever lingering hesitancy to embrace connected devices that had previously existed within the medical field. In the process, healthcare facilities are not just equipping themselves to handle the next pandemic better, they are blazing a trail into a new world of connectivity and efficiency that could previously only be imagined.

What is the Internet of Medical Things?

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is a network of medical devices and equipment with integrated digital sensors designed to collect medical data and share it with other IoMT devices and medical computers via the internet. IoMT devices are broken down into classes based on where they are deployed and how they are used: 

  • On-Body Class: wearable or ingestible devices and sensors
  • In-Home Class: remote patient monitoring and in-home telehealth
  • Community-Class: remote care kiosks, intelligent emergency response, portable point of care devices, logistics and asset monitoring
  • In-Clinic Class: telehealth enabled remote point of care devices 
  • In-Hospital Class: asset, personnel, patient flow, and inventory management, climate control

According to a study released by Gartner in October 2019, 79% of healthcare providers were already using IoT devices in some capacity. And that was before the pandemic had brought massive upheaval to both society and the healthcare industry. Since the pandemic began last year, 95% of healthcare IT managers have reported an increase in network traffic, due in part to a surge in IoMT device use.

Although we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of the Internet of Medical Things’ potential, this new level of connectivity has already altered the healthcare industry in profound ways.

Pandemic Spurs a Revolution in Remote Patient Monitoring and Infection Control

The necessity of maintaining physical distance from other people to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 has forced healthcare systems in countries around the world to develop innovative uses for IoMT technology, many of which will likely stay in place after society returns to normal. 

For instance, a hospital in Taiwan has developed an automated check-in system that utilizes infrared scanners and smart cameras. The infrared scanner detects the patient’s body temperature, while the smart camera uses facial recognition technology to determine if they are wearing a facial covering over their mouth. The system alerts hospital staff of an infected patient at check-in, thereby keeping hospital staff from infection and mitigating the virus’s spread. 

If staff members are equipped with a medical tablet, they can be made aware of a potentially contagious individual at check-in no matter where they are in the hospital. This increases responsiveness and contains pathogens while at the same time staff are freed up from having to monitor each patient as they enter the hospital and can instead focus on other tasks.

Germany has developed a smartwatch app that collects people’s vital signs, like temperature and pulse, to determine who is most likely to have been infected with COVID. Health officials then analyze the data via an online “heat map” of locations where the virus may be spreading in real-time. A similar system in Taiwan utilizes a small Bluetooth-enabled patch that continuously collects temperature data and sends it to a mobile phone. South Korea, meanwhile, built its contact tracing system around a smartphone app that monitors people’s movements that allows public health officials to rapidly locate and contact anyone who may have interacted with the patient.

The implications of all these technologies in the event of future pandemics are apparent. However, in normal times, these systems could help contain the spread of seasonal respiratory illnesses like colds and flus that produce similar symptoms to COVID-19.

The Home Care Renaissance

Once the healthcare system’s backbone, house calls have long been thought of as a relic of a bygone era. With the pressure COVID-19 has placed upon the healthcare system as well as the advent of IoMT and telehealth services, the home is increasingly becoming a primary point of care for many people. In other words, house calls are making a comeback.

A technician can arrive at a patient’s home with a clinic-in-a-bag, check their vitals, and monitor their heart and lung function with instruments linked via Bluetooth to a medical tablet. The tablet then uses WiFi or 5G to relay that information to a doctor located at a clinic for analysis and diagnosis. These portable IoMT kits give healthcare providers the ability to offer remote care to elderly patients and those with chronic conditions in their homes at a time when long-term care facilities are breeding grounds for COVID-19. 

Some companies have even collapsed what used to be multiple pieces of equipment into one. It is now possible for an untrained layperson to check a patient’s temperature, perform an ear and throat exam, as well as check their pulse and lung capacity, all with a single connected IoMT device. The information is sent via the internet to a doctor using a medical computer at a centralized location for examination.

By allowing laypeople to perform these kinds of basic tests at home, healthcare facilities can triage patients remotely before determining if they even need to come in for care. Patients with chronic conditions can examine themselves without needing to visit a facility. Eliminating the need for technicians reduces the staffing burden on clinics, reducing their overhead and allowing them to provide better, more efficient care across the board.

Day-to-day patient monitoring is also made easier with IoMT devices. Digital medication dispensers, for instance, can monitor whether a patient is taking their medicine when they are supposed to. Wearable biometric sensors allow doctors to remotely monitor a patient’s vitals 24/7 and react quickly in the event of an emergency.

While the benefits of IoMT facilitate remote care are evident during a pandemic that requires social distancing for infection control, after the pandemic is over, such technology will help reduce the patient load on long-term care facilities and emergency rooms. Making quality primary care possible in the home also gives elderly patients and people with chronic conditions who otherwise would have needed to live in long-term care facilities the independence to reside where they chose.

Efficient Emergency Care

COVID-19 caused a massive spike in the number of individuals seeking emergency care. As the disease spread, hospitals and clinics worldwide found themselves running out of beds and intensive care units at an alarming rate. With space at a premium, healthcare facilities needed a way to keep track of their available beds and streamline their workflows wherever feasible to get patients through the system as quickly as possible. 

Using infrared and pressure sensors, smart cameras, and medical panel PCs equipped with RFID scanners, hospitals can collect bed availability data in real-time. Beds no longer sit unused and fallow after a patient leaves. Instead, staff can see precisely when beds become available from their medical computer, disinfect, and immediately fill them with the next patient. It has never been possible to manage patient flow through an emergency room with this level of precision before. 

Bed data generated by IoMT devices in multiple hospitals can then be sent to Emergency Medical Technicians in the field equipped with 5G medical tablets, giving them a bird’s eye view of ER capacity in their area. Not only that, hospitals with RFID-assisted materials management programs can relay data on things like medication availability and blood supply. This way, emergency personnel can ensure they transport patients to a facility with the space and necessary materials to see them. 

Without IoMT technology, this level of data collection and visualization would just be impossible.  Patients would miss out on vital care as beds sit empty, and EMTs would be flying blind when transporting patients for emergency care. With IoMT and the increased availability of medical computers and tablets, patients can receive emergency care with a previously unimaginable efficiency level.

Final Thoughts

While there are still security concerns and regulatory hurdles to deal with regarding IoMT, the healthcare industry’s trajectory is clear: greater connectivity across more of the devices available to healthcare providers. If you are interested in learning about how medical computers and tablets can help you enter this new world of digital healthcare, contact the experts at Cybernet today!