How the Internet of Things Is Disrupting the Healthcare Industry – And Possible Concerns to Note
Category: #editorial  By Brad Smith  Date: 2019-09-30
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How the Internet of Things Is Disrupting the Healthcare Industry – And Possible Concerns to Note

Things are not what they used to be.

We can now ‘call’ the lights to come on, control the home’s air conditioning system from our mobile phones and even monitor what is happening in another part of the world via installed cameras – all through units as simple as our mobile phones.

With everything working under a neat piece of technology called ‘Internet of Things (IoT),’ it is interesting to note that this connected device framework has made its way into the healthcare industry too.

But then, just how important can IoT be in bettering the general health of patients?

 

The place of IoT in Healthcare (The Good)

There are diverse devices out there today which are dedicated towards improving the health of the patient. From the simple wearables (such as your smart watches) to the advanced insulin pumps, as well as pacemakers, this is a market which is still growing in leaps and bounds.

All that being said, the word ‘improve’ could just be subjective. That is why we take an objective approach to discovering just what potentials and promises these devices bring for patients – and the steps it takes to realizing them.

 

Cost Savings

There are a lot of scenarios where costs are ramped up in the medical scene.

Starting with the patient, having to pay for tests which they might not need (eliminatory and confirmatory tests, anyone?) drives up the cost of basic healthcare. That is not to mention consultation fees for coming in to see a designated physician as part of a routine check and maintenance plan.

It would not be fair to speak of costs and not bring in the insurance companies too. When they take on the patient’s burden, they are tasked with making the most payments for all the services we have listed above and more.

Looking at the outflow of money above, it could be reasoned that the hospitals are the biggest winners. Well, they are also losing out on cost basis, and IoT helps them there. Afterall, dedicating resources – personnel and equipment – to patients will be better managed if there was access to data from connected devices.

Speaking of data…

 

Staffing

It is almost a global phenomenon that there is a shortage of medical staff from place to place.

When data from connected devices are analyzed, healthcare providers can quickly make decisions on what specialists they need more, helping them hire smart instead of just hiring more.

That does not only make even more hands available for proper attendance to the patients who come in, but helps the healthcare providers optimize their workflow and wage patterns such that they are moving at the best capacity – both operationally and financially.

 

Tracking

As mentioned above, connected devices makes it possible for patients to keep going about their day to day activities without having to go in for checks, unless in the case of an emergency. Likewise, they get to keep an eye on their vital signs by themselves.

Picking smartwatches as an example, the top picks in this market have been designed to offer valuable insights into what is going on in the wearer’s body. This includes all of, but not limited to:

  • Keeping an eye on the menstrual cycle
  • Watching the heart rate
  • Checking blood pressure
  • Estimating insulin level in the body
  • Tracking exercise and physical activity
  • Monitoring calorie intake
  • Noting breathing patterns, and so much more.

Some of these are things which would have required the patient to go in for a physical sit down.

As a plus to the tracking abilities, we have…

 

Alerts

Should the patient be straying from their safe zones, connected devices have the ability to alert them. This way, an obese patient could know if they have not exercised as much as they should – or if they were going beyond the safe thresholds. Likewise, diabetics will know when they have too much unconverted sugar in their bodies.

Perhaps one of the most relatable scenarios is of a man who had his life saved by the Apple watch, among other cases.

Even though he felt fine, the watch notified him of an abnormal heart beat which required emergency attention. Heeding the watch and paying the doctor a visit showed that three (of four) arteries in his heart were blocked – and the fourth as barely operating at 10% capacity.

It needs no telling that without such alerts, the patient might have been seriously harmed or, worse, died.

 

Error reduction

It is an established fact that about 250,000 deaths in the US alone are a result of medical errors. These errors could stem from any of the wrong application of medicine, improper approach of diseases, poor diagnosis, and so much more.

While IoT won’t remove all of the errors, it will cut down on the deaths that results from such mistakes by a large margin. How?

Data from these devices can be interpreted to understand the pattern of their illness. This leads to faster and more accurate diagnosis, helping in the administration of the right medicine.

Besides, IoT can also help inform the doctor when a patient’s condition does not match the medication they have been prescribed. That way, the patient can be recalled from the wrong medical regimen and put on the right one before serious harm is caused.

 

How IoT can be dangerous (The Bad and Ugly)

For all the good that connected devices bring to the medical table, there are a couple of concerns and ugly sides to it too. This should not be cause for panic, though. Afterall, just about any piece of technology designed for good can be weaponized to do otherwise.

However, effectively tackling the poor side of this spectrum requires an understanding of it.

While we could talk about the fact that these devices don’t come cheap, thus defeating the purpose of better healthcare for the masses, that won’t be as serious an issue as the cybersecurity concerns that these devices carry in them.

The fact that they do not work as smartphones and our other gadgets could make us dismiss them as being smart, altogether. But then, we have to remember that they also work via the internet.

This makes them vulnerable to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks which could hamper these units from performing their basic functions. In sensitive cases – such as with an implantable pacemaker or insulin pump – that could lead to the death of the patient.

It is also projected that hackers might soon start getting creative with these devices. Already, researchers found that more than 68,000 connected medical devices which were exposed on the internet.

Most of them were suffering from being operated on old software – as old as the Windows Vista. This means security vulnerabilities on that piece of software which have since been fixed on newer versions could still be exploited.

The knowledge of that – and many more – could dissuade anyone from wanting anything to go with these devices.

 

Staying safe with medical devices

The digital health industry is projected to reach a stunning $536.6 billion by the year 2025 – and we believe IoT will be one of the leaders in that charge. Thus, it makes no sense to fight against it at this point.

In that light, embracing the technology appropriately makes sense. To enable you to do so, and stay safe at the same time:

  • Always change the default passwords on these units. That is usually how DDoS attacks gain control of them in the first place. Also, make sure your new password is safe and secure so that it is not exposed in other targeted hacks
  • Refrain from connecting your digital medical devices to just about any computer or public Wi-Fi network. Besides giving the computer and network admins respectively a key to reading your data, you are also exposing yourself to a series of possible hacks and device compromise.
  • We recommend layering your device’s internet connection over a VPN for proper traffic encryption. This bars anyone snooping in on your network from seeing your device traffic, or even personally identifying it with you.
  • Never share your device serial number and password with anyone.
  • Keep your medical devices safe and secure when they are not with you
  • Report any and all suspicious activities to your healthcare providers instantly

 

Wrap Up

In pursuance of a better healthcare model, going digital is an unquestionable move. So that these devices don’t come back to turn on us, though, applying the appropriate safety measures just make sense.

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About Author

Brad Smith    

Brad Smith

Brad Smith is a technology expert at TurnOnVPN, a non-profit promoting a safe, secure, and censor-free internet. He writes about his dream for a free internet and unravels the horror behind big techs

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