The healthcare sector has rarely been quite so at the forefront of public consciousness. Individuals and organisations worldwide are battling to find both a vaccine and more effective treatments for Covid-19 – and in the few short months since the pandemic hit, they have made extraordinary progress.
Part of that progress is being driven by the Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT – one of the most exciting and fast-growing subsets of the broader IoT.
What is the IoMT?
The Internet of Medical Things, just like any other part of the IoT, comprises a complex and growing infrastructure of connected devices, applications and systems and services – in this case, embedded in the healthcare sector.
Such ‘things’ can range from connected devices actually implanted in patients’ bodies, such as pacemakers and artificial joints, through to highly complex hospital machinery, such as MRI scanners. They can range from connected tools or kits which patients use in their own homes, such as pregnancy tests or kits to manage blood sugar levels, through to instruments used in surgery.
As such, the functions undertaken by individual IoMT devices vary enormously. However, collectively, they are generating new data in almost every corner of the healthcare sector. Every one of those connected devices is able to capture information pertaining to patient health, medical interventions and even clinician performance, transmit it to centralised analytics platforms and build a smarter, more informed healthcare ecosystem than ever before.
Little wonder, then, that collectively the medical technology, or medtech industry was found to generate revenues of $407.2 billion in 2019, according to EY. The IoMT is a crucial and fast-growing part of that picture.
How is the IoMT affecting healthcare
But how do all those connected devices actually make a tangible difference to healthcare?
Effective healthcare is built on information. Yes, sometimes remarkably simple medical interventions can have a huge impact – consider the ‘wash your hands’ messaging we have all become particularly familiar with in 2020. But even such simple processes are built on in-depth knowledge of how diseases develop and are transmitted, and how different patients fare with different treatments. And the IoMT is a hugely powerful system both for generating new healthcare information, and for getting it to the people who can best make use of it.
As Deloitte puts it, the IoMT is driven by ‘an increase in the number of connected medical devices that are able to generate, collect, analyse or transmit health data or images and connect to healthcare provider networks, transmitting data to either a cloud repository or internal servers’. In other words, the IoMT is powering an ecosystem in which healthcare providers, from frontline care through to behind-the-scenes research and development, are able to share information hugely efficiently and in great volumes.
What does all this mean in practice? More streamlined clinical workflows. More tailored care, whether for entire patient demographics, or individuals. Better identification of new innovations, and more join-up between different parts of the health and social care sector. Fewer mistakes, lower cost of care and, ultimately, better patient outcomes.
A particularly compelling practical example involves one of the fastest-growth areas of the IoMT of all – wearable devices. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA investigated that well-known personal activity tracker, the Fitbit, and its ability to accurately evaluate a group of mid-risk cardiovascular patients. They made two exciting discoveries: first, the group recorded high adherence and low attrition from using the devices; and second, data collected via the Fitbits could be used to ‘identify trends that call for clinical intervention’.
In other words, a relatively inexpensive and highly available consumer devices could be used to more accurately and effectively carry out remote monitoring of patients suffering from one of the most common, and potentially life-impacting conditions, in the world.
This is just one potential application of the IoMT – there are myriad more. Healthcare headlines might be preoccupied with Covid-19 for many months yet, but behind the scenes there is genuine transformation taking place.