On March 11, 2020, the WHO formally declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. At the time of writing this, more than 1.3 million people worldwide had the virus, with deaths approaching the 76,000 mark. Like every outbreak, COVID-19 faces serious challenges such as identifying the source of the epidemic, reducing the spread of the virus, having enough medical resources to treat all the patients with severe symptoms, and understanding why some patients are severely affected while others are asymptomatic.
As we flatten the curve and gradually come out of lockdown, governments are looking to technology to manage the pandemic until scientists formulate a vaccine. So, the question is, how can IoT help fight coronavirus and future pandemics?
Here we look at IoT applications being used and possible use cases…
- Drone usage in the fight against coronavirus began in China, but other countries have followed suit. They’ve been deployed to disinfect streets, deliver medical supplies, and are used for public surveillance to ensure people adhere to lockdown measures. There are also anecdotal reports of healthcare workers using drones to fly up to patients standing on apartment balconies, to take their temperatures with an infrared thermometer.
- People tracking and video surveillance along with facial recognition with location permissions tracked via phone applications. Airports also use HD cameras to monitor body temperature of travellers.
- IoT can aid symptom tracking and support telemedicine. With IoT, people can take their temperatures or measure their oxygen levels with an oximeter and upload the data to the cloud for review and analysis. This activity not only reduces work for healthcare workers but reduces the risk of cross-infection with the patients. Additionally, this data can be used for analysis to see which areas of a country are experiencing clusters of symptoms to predict peaks.
- In hospitals, the transmission of biometric measurements like heartbeat and blood pressure from wearable, wireless instruments on patients to a central system is used to monitor large patient numbers with reduced staff. In this instance, IoT can be used to reduce the manual workload of medical staff while reducing exposure to infection.
- Border control. Scanners available at airports can detect elevated temperatures or symptoms.Real-time information can quickly indicate if infected people need to be moved into quarantine or self-isolation.
- Hospital and workplace hygiene. Hand hygiene dispensers are critical to keeping hospitals clean and safe and preventing cross-infection and contamination; the importance clearly demonstrated as we battle coronavirus. Integrating IoT sensors into such dispensers can have two powerful impacts. First, they can send alerts to mobile devices of people in the vicinity using mesh technology, reminding staff and visitors alike to use the dispensers and help reduce risk. Second, they can send alerts to caretaker and cleaning staff when they are running low, improving efficiency in keeping the dispensers topped up.In truly smart buildings, this information can even be combined with nearby door opening to draw correlations between dispenser use and traffic.
- Hospital equipment asset tracking and management. With the increasing influx of patients at this time, hospitals are buckling under constant pressure to track their medical supplies and equipment continually. With all staff efforts directed at patient care, failures in inventory management are inevitable.Now more than ever before, hospitals could deploy IoT technology to manage assets and track equipment.
For instance, IoT uses RFID tag technology to track and monitor healthcare assets like infusion pumps, oxygen tanks, CPAP machines, ventilators, blood bags, and medical supplies. Some hospitals already use Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to monitor the temperature, humidity, location, and asset utilisation. This approach helps to evaluate the shelf life and expiry date of supplies. Precise stocking, preventive maintenance, and accurate demand forecasts of supplies support effective asset management, inevitably reducing costs and unnecessary wastage. Fundamentally, keeping track of all these assets allows health providers to find unused equipment quickly, saving hundreds of hours in porters searching for necessary equipment. Additionally, GPS asset trackers could also be used to alert staff when an asset is removed from hospital premises.
IoT is a fundamental technology that can help with pandemic management for the use of disease detection, prevention, and reporting. Over the coming months more IoT use cases and deployments will come to fruition