There’s a new reason to make sure you have a secure internet connection. It’s called the Internet of Things, and it’s changing the way we live. When the IoT is used for healthcare, it’s called the Internet of Medical Things. Here’s a primer on what the IoMT is and how it’s beginning to affect the way healthcare is managed and delivered.
First, What is the Internet of Things?
So, let’s start with the Internet of Things. The IoT consists of any physical device with an on/off switch that is connected with the Internet. Think of Amazon Alexa. You may already know Alexa is Amazon’s artificial intelligence voice assistant. You tell it to turn on the TV, an apparently separate physical object, and it turns it on.
The secret is that Alexa, connected to your smart TV via the Web, activates the on/off switch. The IoT doesn’t require a voice assistant, though. Commands can be sent to devices through a computer or mobile apps as well.
Then, What Is the Internet of Medical Things?
The internet is already very useful for helping people manage their physical and mental health. Your primary care doctor can set you up with links to patient education. You can talk to a doctor or therapist through online teleconferencing. The Internet of Medical Things, also known as healthcare IoT, goes even further to connect you and your healthcare providers with the medical devices and applications you need to improve your health.
What Are Some Current Uses of the IoMT?
As of 2015, there were already 4.5 billion IoMT devices, nearly one-third of all IoT devices at that time. What are these devices? They include a wide range of wearable devices, such as:
- Smart watches to track physical activity, sleep, and vital signs.
- Contact lenses that read and track glucose levels.
- Necklaces that recognize and report when you’ve eaten too many carbs.
IoMT devices are being used more and more in hospitals. Some of the systems and devices that are already revolutionizing hospital care include:
- Remote patient monitoring systems.
- Sensor-enabled hospital beds.
- Sensor-enabled infusion pumps.
- Systems that track medication, medical supplies, and medical equipment inventories.
What Are the Benefits of the IoMT?
The Internet of Things is pretty cool, but it’s so much more than that. Healthcare IoT is improving patient care in several ways:
- It offers objective reporting that is more accurate than the patient’s subjective reports.
- It allows for remote monitoring to make sure patients remain compliant with medications and doctors’ orders.
- There’s less possibility of human error.
- There’s no faking illness or good health when connected devices keep track of medical symptoms and conditions.
Now, Back to Security…
Security issues are the greatest concerns for many healthcare providers and patients who are considering using IoMT devices or already doing so. The threat to patients’ personal health data is a significant concern for providers, patients, and IoMT device producers. It’s a concern that will likely be sorted out sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, is IoMT worth the risk? That probably depends on how critical your health issues are. For example, if a connected glucose monitoring device can help you avoid a diabetic coma or a fatal drop in blood sugar, you may decide that the benefits are well worth the possibility of data loss. If the security issues can be resolved, IoMT may well be the best thing that’s happened to healthcare in a long time.