(By Dr Rishi Mohan Bhatnagar, President at Aeris Communications)
Mr. Gupta was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease that requires extended observation and care. Unwilling to stay in the hospital under observation, he turned to Internet-of-Things (IoT)-enabled sensors and monitoring devices to track and record his symptoms for the clinicians to create a cohesive home care plan.
Today, a patient’s choice of going in for home care in place of the traditional healthcare ecosystem of physical monitoring is rapidly becoming an accepted norm, as the world becomes more connected. So, in place of physical records and monitoring, data is collected, stored, and accessed via various connected devices such as bedside monitors, smart watches, fitness bands, implants, and other digital objects that transmit or receive signals.
How IoT Can Help Improve Care
While technology and connectivity have made it possible for patients to receive better care, the healthcare industry is still experiencing challenges such as rising cost of care, dearth of trained medical professionals, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and inaccessibility of quality healthcare services in rural and remote areas.
In such a situation, IoT-enabled home care can prove to be a solution. Take the case of the doctor-patient ratio; In India, the doctor-patient ratio is 1:1,445 as against WHO’s prescribed 1:1,000. This translates into doctors being under duress and unable to handle large number of cases, especially in times of emergencies. With the help of medical data of patients from IoT devices, the clinicians can provide prognosis, diagnosis, and even post-treatment care services without repeated consultations with the patient.
Further, IoT offers better oversight of treatment and care of patients. Telemedicine and virtual wearable monitors to record heartbeats, insulin, and blood pressure, etc., help hospitals in providing better remote care to patients in the comfort of their homes. This also results in reduced pressure on healthcare resources and infrastructure, freeing them up to deal with more critical cases. The medical IoT devices lead to enhanced patient engagement, delivering value beyond the single episode of care, in which is inevitably followed by higher consumer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
Finally, IoT-enabled hygiene monitoring devices help in preventing patients from getting infected, especially when the hospitals are overcrowded as was seen during the second wave of the pandemic.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the demand for virtual care. In fact, the global IoT healthcare market size is expected to experience tremendous growth – from $72.5 billion in 2020 to $188.2 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 21%.
Moreover, according to a Gartner study, the total worldwide spending on wearable devices is expected to increase by 18% to approximately $81.5 billion in 2021 as compared to the previous year, propelled by health measures to self-track COVID-19 symptoms and increased focus on self-care and wellness.
IoT Bringing Health Care Home to Patients
With the healthcare ecosystem experiencing a massive shift in terms of the patient profiles with growing chronic and lifestyle diseases, higher size of population in older age groups, deeper penetration of digital technologies influencing consumer choice, increased demand for ease and convenience in care delivery services, among other factors, IoT is expected to play a bigger role in expanding home care services.
Through medical IoT, doctors can easily receive information from patients via smartphones, reducing time lags in diagnosis, treatments, and postoperative care. Additionally, patients get automatic reports, feeds, medicine reminders and reminders about due date for getting their blood tests, and pharmacy notifications about refilling their prescriptions. This cuts down unnecessary visits to hospitals or clinics, especially for those staying in far-flung areas.
Another area this technology has the potential to impact and improve significantly is senior care and care for chronic diseases. It enables independent and safe living for senior citizens via patient tracking, smart home devices, and other such means, monitoring and notifying family members or/and care givers of the elderly’s activities and emergencies such as falls or heart stroke.
IoT-enabled wearables and sensors aid regular patient assessments through easily monitored data, more timely treatments and compliance transparency that facilitates insurance reimbursements.
Challenges Faced in Adopting IoT in Home Care
While there are many advantages, as is the case with any other technology, IoT comes with its own set of limitations and implementation issues. To begin with, while data is considered to be the new atom in healthcare, storing, handling and safeguarding enormous volumes of health data is not easy. Moreover, the nature of the data – patient’s personal information, medical history, etc. – is highly sensitive and confidential and something that requires stringent data privacy compliances and methods. The use of this data entails various legal and regulatory challenges.
Incompatibility and non-interoperability of various medical and health monitoring devices in terms of their hardware, software and firmware, non-unified cloud services and different operating systems, obsolete technologies, etc. are some of the seemingly common and major factors that hinder a streamlined adoption of this technology in healthcare.
IoT-Enabled Healthcare Solutions – Opening a New Chapter in Remote Care
Health and wellness management solutions help address the above-mentioned challenges while catering to the different requirements of home healthcare. These solutions bring convenience, ease of use, healthcare access to those in rural and remote areas, timely delivery of care, and an overall enhanced patient care experience.