The healthcare industry is a key sector in need of digital transformation, both for the benefit of healthcare workers and patients. The benefits of utilising IoT technologies in healthcare are numerous, but here are five ways that digital transformation via IoT can make the healthcare industry more efficient.
Firstly, lets define what IoT is? IoT stands for the ‘Internet of Things’, a trendy technology marketing buzzword that really just means applying sensors to ‘things’ such as products, goods, equipment, or even people. These things then speak to the ‘cloud’ which is essentially a database, where the information can then be presented via a dashboard web browser. On the dashboard users can view the data and also apply analytics to gain better insights and intelligence.
The benefits for IoT in healthcare are large and became even more important during the pandemic when healthcare was pushed out of the hospital, and into the community where possible. It enabled remote patient diagnostics without the need for healthcare workers to always be present around the patient. Within the hospital it also meant that carers do not always have to be present around the patient to conduct diagnostics. So let’s take a look at some of the practical uses of IoT.
Reduction in Drug and Vaccine Wastage
The French Directorate General of Health estimated that 30% of all vaccines go to waste due to spoilage in transport and in storage. The reason why wastage happens is often because of the complex process of transporting and storing vaccines, where they have to be kept in strict temperature-controlled conditions. There have also been situations where vaccines and samples are just get left behind in places, and then end up going ‘missing’.
Whether it be Covid vaccines, patient samples, or other types of drugs, they normally have to be kept under specific temperatures and conditions, for example; Hepatitis A and B vaccines, vaccines against mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR), glaucoma eye drops, inhalers for asthma, insulin for diabetes treatment, and certain biopharmaceuticals.
So how can IoT help in this area? By tagging drugs and vaccines with sensors that can track temperature, humidity, vibration/shock, light/UI, and location, healthcare workers can be warned when problems arise. This data is displayed on a dashboard to give an overview of where your assets are at all times, and the condition they’re in, thus mitigating waste. Furthermore, it also provides the ability to manage assets more effectively so that central asset registers can be maintained knowing how much you’ve got, and where it’s located.
Increased Productivity of Employees and Prevention of Loss of Medical Equipment
According to the Nursing Times, nurses can spend up to 10% of their time looking for medical equipment in hospitals. These are sometimes chaotic environments and frontline workers have better uses of time rather than looking for equipment, when they could be engaged directly in patient care. Furthermore, there is also the loss of medical equipment in hospitals due to theft and genuine loss. A lack of inventory control can lead to both financial waste and the over ordering of new equipment.
This problem became apparent again during the start of the pandemic when the UK struggled to know how many ventilators they had, and where they were located. Inventory controls in hospitals was poor and many trusts had to quickly go around and hunt for equipment, not really knowing what they had. Today many hospitals find it a struggle to know how many syringe drivers they have and where they’re located.
Some hospitals might use barcodes to track items and medical equipment, where someone will go round the hospital and scan each item once a day or once per week. The problem is that these items are often moved within a short period of time post barcode scanning, so they are effectively lost again. Some may argue that barcodes are cheap technologies, but they fail to calculate the manual labour costs required to keep circulating hospitals scanning and recording items, in addition to the human errors or oversights that can regularly be made.
Ultimately this is about providing better patient care where frontline medical staff are not wasting time trying to find equipment and can spend more time directly with patients. It has led to much more efficient hospital operations that can only be a good thing for patients.
Patient and Bed Tracking
It still amazes me that anyone can walk into any hospital without challenge or security checks. It often means overworked security staff or healthcare workers have to be ‘all eyes’ in complex building environments. Of course, tracking people automatically come with privacy issues, but there is certainly an argument for better patient security protocols within hospital premises.
One area being investigated by the NHS is in remote patient and bed tracking possibilities. Knowing automatically and remotely what beds are occupied and by which patients, means nurse stations are constantly informed of who is where and what beds are available. Gone are the whiteboards with marker pen scribbles describing who is meant to be where, and what is available. It can now all be displayed on an online dashboard in one place, easily accessible to those who need to know. This data can also be monitored centrally so that NHS Trusts or regional health authorities can know how many beds are available in a region at any one time.
When it comes to people tracking and bed monitoring within hospitals there is a balance to be had, privacy vs efficiency. Ultimately if means patients are kept more secure and hospitals can fulfil duty of care better obligations better, then that can only be a good thing. It also means nurses and doctors can spend more time focused on patient care.
A glucose monitor placed under your skin (see: https://bit.ly/3IiencY ) can measure your glucose levels throughout the day and night. The data is collected and shared with doctors and healthcare workers so that they can review and adjust treatment appropriately. The device also allows you to see trends as to when sugar levels are starting to rise or drop, and to better understand what might be causing this over time. One of the greatest advantages is the patient not needing to measure blood glucose levels themselves. Sometimes the old finger prick test required the patient to be fully accountable for their readings, with problems arising if readings are missed. IoT is helping to automate this process and making life easier for both patients and healthcare workers.
Ingestible sensors are small devices or even cameras, that can be swallowed easily to collect information from digestive and other internal organs, in a much less uncomfortable and invasive compared to many current methods. These devices can also dissolve or pass through the body on their own. They are currently used for conditions related to internal bleeding as they can provide insights into stomach PH levels, which can help pinpoint the source of internal bleeding quickly and effectively.
An example would be smart camera capsules that are being used for remote endoscopy procedures in the home. A patient can swallow the capsule and the recorded information is sent directly to a doctor who can analyse the data. These are expensive devices so they also need to be tracked remotely to reduce the risk of theft. All of these things involve having IoT sensors imbedded or attached, and then controlled remotely. The benefits to patients include the fact that they can now have procedures in the comfort of their own homes.
As can be seen there are huge opportunities for healthcare to innovate with IoT. By improving operational processes, it can mean more efficiency and less wastage, two things healthcare will have to focus more on in the coming years. But ultimately anything that helps improve both patient care and patient outcomes can only be a good thing.
Author: Simon Rowell, Co-Founder - Findaa Technology Ltd