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Pros & Cons of IoT in Healthcare

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In the healthcare arena, the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), and it’s doing lots of good in the world by improving care and delivering it to more people. Any place becomes a point of care, not just within the four walls of a healthcare facility. Instead, care comes to the consumer when and how they need it. But, of course, there are potential risks associated with connected devices in healthcare as well.

The Pros

Wearable technology and near-constant internet access allows for real-time feedback loop of many of aspects of our daily health, including activity levels, nutrition, heart rate, and blood sugar. With mass adoption of technology, we can now see a fuller picture of our health day-to-day, and it looks pretty good in terms of these four aspects:

Cost savings: People with chronic illnesses like kidney disease or autoimmune disorders often incur high costs associated with continuous medical care, like reoccurring hospital or visit claims, emergency care, transportation to and from healthcare facilities, and time spent out of work, as well as suffering a physical toll on the body. Connected technology can help save these patients thousands of dollars and hours. IoMT brings care into their homes, so patients can check in with doctors remotely, ask questions and voice concerns about their care plan, and perform simple readings or tests with connected devices that allow for real-time health status updates.

Transparency: Connected electronic health records (EHR) would save patients from having to regurgitate information at every new doctor’s office, easing the stress on and forgetfulness of the human mind. Connected devices that record health data can be connected to multiple EHRs, allowing doctors across a patient’s care plan to receive the same info in near real time. Because EHRs are stored in the cloud, consumers can view more of their current health record and status at any point in time for better insight into what is noted during and after medical visits. This empowers them to ask more targeted questions and make better decisions regarding their health. As more transparency is built into healthcare and patients can be served more conveniently, people will see a shift in the baseline level of health and the expectation in quality of care.

Caregiving: IoMT can be beneficial to anyone caring for aging parents and growing children, enabling caregivers who don’t live locally or simply can’t make it to every appointment to still oversee the process. IoMT keeps all parties in the loop.

Compliance: Medication compliance is one interesting vertical of IoMT innovation. Pill bottles with connected caps allow caregivers to be alerted if their loved on has or hasn’t taken an important medication. An alert can be activated when a prescription needs to be filled and hasn’t been yet.

The Cons

There’s always something for developers to question when exploring new technology. An IoT for All article takes a look at the challenges associated with just ingestibles. Here are just three:

Security: Doctors at University of Minnesota Health and Fairview Health announced they’re treating a small group of cancer patients with digital medicine: a chemotherapy pill that includes a sensor to let patients and doctors monitor dosage to make sure they’re taking their medicine when they’re supposed to. Sounds great, but one of the biggest concerns about IoT is security. Ingesting connected devices, if not properly secured, could have people unknowingly broadcasting their health status, and any other personal data related to it, everywhere they go.

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Privacy: Any connected healthcare devices would be subject to HIPAA standard, naturally, but when it comes to ingestibles there are lots of questions about who owns the device — is it the manufacturer, doctor, healthcare system, insurance company, or the person whose body it’s in? Could the owner retrieve the device at will, forcing the patient to undergo an unwanted medical procedure? And if the individual owns the data (according to regulations like HIPAA and the GDPR), how would consent work? Can data be erased or deleted from the device remotely, or will it require a medical procedure? What if the device malfunctions? Can it stay in the patient forever, or will that cause harm, and who’s liable for that?

Unintended Use: Concerns about the unintended use of ingestibles are more about potential abuse of power. It’s possible that police departments could give people convicted of drunk driving the choice of losing their license or ingesting a device that would monitor their blood alcohol level – too high and it could alert police and/or disable the car. In the same vein, businesses could start requiring ingestibles as a condition of employment, with the intention of maintaining a drug-free workplace. Parents could make ingestibles a condition of letting their teen get a driver’s license.

IoT Beyond Healthcare

IEEE’s Guide to the Internet of Things explores healthcare and other industries. In this eight-course program, participants learn about the IoT, its applications, challenges, and future opportunities. This program is designed for professionals working in engineering, IT, computer science, and related fields across all industries. Connect with an IEEE Content Specialist and receive a custom quote for your organization today.

Resources

Podnar, Kristina. (25 Feb 2019). How to Protect Yourself from the Siren Song of Healthcare IoT. IoT for All.

Cosgrove, Carrie. (7 Jan 2019). IoT Applications in Consumer Healthcare. IoT for All.

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