Imagine being able to communicate with a care team at any moment with the simple touch of a button or tracking essential health data in a way that doesn’t require multiple doctor’s office visits.
Thanks to the development of wearable technology and smart sensors on the Internet of Things (IoT), this is becoming possible. Patients can wear devices that measure vital signs and upload the data to their caregivers, which fundamentally changes how patients interact with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.
These devices can assist nurses, who spend the most time interacting with patients, in new ways and can also help patients directly assist in the resolution of their own medical issues.
What is the Internet of Things?
Essentially, the IoT is a term for the connection of computing devices that are built into everyday objects, meaning they can send and receive data. Popular items like the Apple Watch and the Fitbit are two well-known IoT devices.
“IoT offers us opportunity to be more efficient in how we do things, saving us time, money and often emissions in the process,” said Matthew Evans, IoT program head at techUK in an interview with Wired.
According to MarketResearch.com, the IoT healthcare market should rise to $117 billion by 2020, creating a catalyst for innovation in the medical field.
What can these devices do to change healthcare? They can give some autonomy back to senior citizens and others in assisted living programs. The devices can monitor data and send it back to their doctor or other healthcare workers, and they can then decide on the proper course of action and treatment.
IoT monitoring could eliminate many pricey doctor office visits, offering a low-cost, high-tech way to easily access care. The FDA has approved more than 100 health apps for medical use.
Changing Chronic Disease Management
Right now, chronic disease management spend totals $1.1 trillion per year in the U.S., amounting to one-third of total national healthcare expenditures, according to a report by Goldman Sachs. Within this area, three diseases account for 20% of that spend – heart conditions, asthma (COPD) and diabetes.
Goldman Sachs estimates with digital health adoption, there is potential to save about $305 billion each year – and in chronic disease management alone, the country could save $200 billion. One potential impediment is that senior citizens aren’t as likely as other age groups to own a smartphone, but these devices could also give them back some autonomy as they would then have the freedom to live their lives without being constantly hooked up to monitoring machines.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center recently teamed up with FitBit in an effort to assist oncologists with monitoring patients to see if they are active enough for chemotherapy, according to Mobi Health News. They hope the study will give physicians a clear answer on this, as sometimes patients don’t always accurately report their physical activity. By using FitBits, they can also try to screen patients for sleeping issues and fatigue.
Aiding in Preventive Care
The IoT isn’t affecting just chronic disease management – it’s also encouraging people to be more active and develop a fitness plan. Users of FitBits and Apple Watches are going for a walk, but they’re also monitoring calories burned and how quickly they walked. Collecting this kind of data and sending it to a primary care physician could help them monitor patient statistics and detect if there’s an anomaly. Being able to assess this data could potentially amount to lots of savings.
The Future of IoT in Nursing
According to the Goldman Sachs report: “The advent of mobile and the advancement of sensors effectively allow for the miniaturization of medical equipment that formerly only a centralized institution could afford. In this way, we envision IoT enabling a hospital of the future based almost exclusively in ‘the cloud.’”
Additionally, the report states the healthcare IoT’s mission “is to completely dismantle the confined and restrictive healthcare system of today and replace it with the open and universally accessible care platform of tomorrow.”
Nurses and other healthcare professionals will need to continue to monitor the usage of IoT devices, but the possibilities of expansion are vast. As the IoT grows, here are a few things for healthcare workers to consider, according to AdvanceWeb.com:
- How can nurses work to facilitate any necessary patient behavior modification through remote monitoring?
- How can nurses provide the best possible patient and caregiver training on these devices?
By taking these into consideration and adopting uniform policies for IoT devices, nurses can create an IoT care plan that has the potential to improve healthcare outcomes and potentially reduce costs.