The Patient Will See You Now: Healthcare and the Internet of Things

  1. What time did Mom get up this morning?
  2. Did Dad take his mid-day pill?
  3. Does my teenager still have a fever?

The Internet of Things will soon provide an endless stream of data to
anyone acting as a caretaker to a growing child, ill spouse, or aging
parent. As technology grows smaller, we will be able to monitor vital
signs and physical activities from our phones. What once required a
hospital bed and team of nurses will soon require little more than a
medical patch and a cell phone (or Wi-Fi) signal.

The benefit, of course, will be improved medical care. Most
significantly, the Medical Internet of Things will prevent death. Most
patients don’t know how to recognize the early warning signs of heart
attack and stroke. Although we’ve had medical alert bracelets for
years, these still require the patient to recognize the problem and
press the button. In the future, cognitive choice will be removed from
the equation, and data like body temperature and heart rate will
become the deciding factors. And it won’t take too long before
sub-cutaneous devices will be used regularly to monitor blood
proteins, blood cell counts, and medication levels.

The drawback is privacy. Although you may want to know that your
70-year old mother is actively walking every day, she may not want you
to know she spent the afternoon perusing the purses at Nordstrom’s.
But her medical tag will be able to tell you exactly where she went
and if her heart rate stayed within normal parameters the entire time.

The United Kingdom is currently testing an Internet of Things program
within the National Health System (NHS). Over a two-year period,
patients with diabetes will be continuously monitored by a small
device designed to help them regulate physical activity and blood
sugar levels. The goal is to reduce doctor visits and hospital stays.
While the plan will help improve patient care, it is also intended to
monitor the ways in which caretakers use technology and respond to the
results. For example, will the massive amount of data be overwhelming
for caretakers? Does the NHS need to adjust the caregiver’s end-user
experience to be more efficient and user friendly?

Putting health-related technology into the hands of those who need it
the most can be difficult. Poorer populations don’t have the newest
iPhone or the fastest Wi-Fi signal – if any at all. So the NHS has
launched a second program in some of London’s poorer areas to help
reduce the chance of stroke for those patients. Thanks to a small
set-top box and a Bluetooth signal, caregivers no longer need to visit
patients on a daily or weekly basis to review vital signs like weight,
blood pressure, and pulse rate.

Health-related, Internet-connected apps and services are already a
part of our lives. You may not even know it, but your smartphone
probably has an activity tracker waiting to be initiated. (Or you
already have logged in and you are ignoring its constant reminders to
exercise more.) The technology is only going to become more precise
and accurate. And what we might sacrifice in privacy, we will likely
gain in healthy living.

A small gallery

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