March 27, 2019

Q&A: Improving healthcare with the IoT

Publisher: Digital Journal

Healthcare IoT can assist with the collection of analytics and to improve how physicians deliver care as well. Such technologies can also boost patient engagement with the healthcare process. To understand more about how IoT can deliver healthcare solutions, Eric Lagorce, Senior Project Manager, Non-Cellular Modules provides insight.

Digital Journal: Why is healthcare important at work and how can IoT help?

Eric Lagorce: Everyone has heard the phrase 'work smarter, not harder' - four words of simple common sense that have been around since Allan H. Mogensen's Work Simplification of the 1930s. Yet the statement has never been more pertinent than in today's increasingly connected world. The potential of the IoT to simplify, streamline and expedite processes is having a huge impact across many sectors, but arguably the most important is the transformational effect it is having on healthcare. Although the rate of global population growth is slowing, there are an increasing number of people requiring long-term care for chronic conditions, and the cost of treatment continues to escalate. This effects budgets and on the financial costs to individuals.

DJ: Can healthcare technology influence behaviors?

Lagorce: Through the development of the IoT, scientists, healthcare professionals, hospitals and industry itself are creating a behavioral shift in the approach to patient treatments and in doing so are creating a more effective environment in which to deliver healthcare services.

DJ: What types of innovations can IoT deliver?

Lagorce: The IoT is catalyzing new services through remote patient monitoring services, collecting essential data in real time to give care teams better visibility into patients' health. This has three significant advantages. First, the patient can often remain at home, freeing up hospital beds for more acute cases. Second, the doctors and nurses know precisely when the patient needs proactive care, making the process of care far more operationally efficient. Third, remote monitoring is creating a new market for innovative products and services that can help the elderly, housebound or disabled people live more independently.

DJ: Can IoT assist with healthcare at home?

Lagorce: Regarding home-based care, there are many opportunities where the IoT can bring significant benefits. One example could be a patient with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), reliant on oxygen. With COPD there are two home-based care use cases - oxygen concentrators and oxygen tanks. In both cases, a simple sensor can measure the usage. For the concentrator, by connecting the pulse oximeter (used to record oxygen saturation) to the Internet, the effectiveness of the oxygen can be measured, and the patient's blood oxygen levels monitored. The data is transmitted to the care team, who can keep an eye on the patient's condition without having the patient or the care team travel anywhere. The tanks can be monitored for how much oxygen charge is left, as they are also used as backups to the concentrators in case of a power failure, so it is essential to have an accurate record of their status. The service provider can be alerted in good time when replacement oxygen tanks are required.

DJ: How does such technology connect?

Lagorce: In terms of the connectivity, the tank monitor and pulse oximeter could be Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connecting to the BLE gateway, and the concentrator could connect directly via Wi-Fi. Low-Power Wi-Fi could be utilized for the direct connection of tanks to the internet via a typical home or enterprise router depending on the care setting.

DJ: How else can IoT assist with healthcare?

Lagorce: Another example is where IoT can be utilized to help control the Type 2 diabetes condition. Rising obesity levels are causing this to become a widespread problem, taking up a great deal of healthcare teams' time and resources to monitor sufferers' blood sugar levels. Utilizing Bluetooth (via gateway) or low-power Wi-fi as connectivity, a mobile blood glucose monitor can enable users to transmit their test results to a care management server immediately. This returns instant feedback and, if necessary, advice and coaching for the patient, providing ongoing support. Transmitted personal health data can utilize standard internet application level security (TLS 1.2 with AES 256-bit encryption), thereby along with proper care management server implementation, ensure patent data security and privacy - a critical aspect of delivering home health care.

DJ: How reliable is the captured data?

Lagorce: Use of approved solutions to manage chronic conditions can also have a positive effect on medical insurance contributions, as there is a full digital audit trail of the stability of the patient's condition. Today's low power sensors used to collect and transmit data over the IoT need to have extensive battery life in order to provide minimal maintenance. Their longevity is being further extended with networking technology that only calls on the sensors to be awake when there is data to transmit. The more sophisticated the IoT device, the more power it will consume, so this energy flexibility, together with mission-critical level s of connectivity, are essential for the effective running of an IoT network. Availability of low-power Wi-Fi solutions now enables medical care monitoring applications in home, hospital, recovery and assisted living care settings by securely connecting to care monitoring and management servers via the existing and ubiquitous Wi-Fi infrastructure. This direct connection offers an alternative to Bluetooth Low Energy based connectivity, which requires proximity to a smartphone or a separate IoT gateway.

DJ: What about security concerns?

Lagorce: With secure Wi-Fi connectivity via the home or corporate router, transmitting data from the sensor is a seamless process. For home use, the system must be unobtrusive, uncomplicated and trusted. Implementing IoT networks in hospitals is more complicated however - the hospital is a congested wireless environment, with 'corporate' Wi-Fi, guest and private networks. Dual band Wi-Fi (2.4 and 5GHz) connectivity is often a necessity to ensure the uninterrupted flow of data - which could be images from internal inspection cameras or electrocardiogram results being transmitted to the monitoring centre. The expansion and densification of the IoT creates issues as well as benefits, however. We are looking at networks that can collect and deliver vast amounts of data - and that data needs to be analysed. It's the 'big data' problem - the data only has value when it is converted into useful information. The healthcare industry is changing, and it is technology that is driving the change. There are heightened concerns around budget management and data privacy. A secure, efficient IoT network, enhanced by data analytics, can help to deliver new levels of efficiency to the healthcare sector - and that will be to the benefit of us all.

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