THE INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT) has the potential to reshape a number of industries, none more so than the healthcare sector.
According to the results of a recent survey we ran, questioning IT professionals on their attitudes to the IoT, healthcare is the biggest potential market for connected devices and technology. Fifty-four percent of readers said that tools like heart-rate monitors were a top benefit of the Internet of Things.
The results show a clear interest among users in how their health, and healthcare in general can be improved by the IoT. This is reflected in recent research, which has indicated that remote patient monitoring is predicted to save an average of $12,000 per patient in the US and significantly reduce hospital-acquired diseases, a figure likely to be achievable in the UK and across Europe too.
Ashfaq Gilkar, head of IT at West Middlesex Hospital, sees a definite place for the IoT, coming from a healthcare background, especially with regards to patient identification systems. These could be beneficial in ensuring patient data is up to date and accessible from a wide range of devices, and also reducing the risk of misdiagnosis or wrong treatments being applied.
Nada Philip, medical expert and senior lecturer at Kingston University, is also exploring the use of IoT in the healthcare sector.
"I've been working in mobile healthcare for many years now, and the Internet of Things, where you have the wearable sensors at a patient's home, which can be connected to the hospital and servers," she said.
"The IoT has huge potential for the management of patients with chronic conditions, and the prospects for mobile healthcare."
Other examples of how the IoT could benefit healthcare include the measurement of ultraviolet sun rays to warn people not to be exposed during certain hours; monitoring vital signs of players on the sports field to prevent injuries; and the control of conditions inside freezers storing vaccines and medicines.
However, the sector identified by INQUIRER readers as the biggest beneficiary of the IoT is also likely to prove the most unlikely to fulfil its potential, due to human rather than technological obstacles.
As Gilkar noted, "A lot of our IoT projects aren't supported, there has been resistance from certain employees.
"Doctors and nurses tend to be very adverse to new technologies, especially those who are older. Projects that we have tried to implement were not supported because clinicians were showing resistance, despite us showing the benefits of such projects."
Philip concurred with this view: "I believe maybe there are some healthcare professionals who have resistance to new technology, usually because they don't understand it or they don't understand the benefit from it or they think this is the technology for the future.
"Privacy, interoperability and the human factor are the key challenges for IoT and healthcare. There are still research aspects that need to be investigated more."
But it is not only healthcare professionals who are sceptical about the prospects of connected devices and systems; patients themselves are also likely to resist any sudden shifts to the IoT for their medical needs, mainly due to concerns around the (in)security of storing and sharing their sensitive personal health data via so many connected systems and the potential for invasion of their privacy, along with the impact on health insurance policies.
So before technologists get too far ahead with predicting and assessing the potential benefits to healthcare from the IoT, and planning for this shift to self-service and wearable sensors, first they need to work with healthcare professionals and patients to ensure their concerns around implementation and privacy are addressed.
For more on the Internet of Things, visit the Intel IT Center µ