When most people think of IoT, they think of the Connected Home. The idea that your car can talk to your front door, which can talk to your lighting, which can talk to your stove. The standard example of IoT is that your car - using embedded software and the cloud - is able to inform your front door when you pull into your driveway, which in turn unlocks and informs your lights they need to switch on now.
Things haven’t quite gone that far - yet - but it is heading that way. But IoT is much more than just your house. Companies are using IoT for manufacturing and enterprise. Last year, the installed base of IoT devices in industrial automation reached 10.3 million. Of all the niche markets, however, healthcare is one of the major ones.
According to research from MarketResearch.com, the healthcare IoT market segment is set to grow to US $117 billion by 2020. Increasingly, connected devices in a number of forms are being introduced to patients to regularly track health information. Smart beds detect if they are occupied and when a patient tries to get up, while also adjusting to ensure appropriate pressure. Home medication dispensers can automatically upload data if a patient does not take medication.
There are other innovations. Mimo has rolled out an infant monitor providing parents with real-time information on their baby, including its breathing and skin temperature, with data sent straight to a smartphone. Pixie Scientific has developed smart diapers analyzing a patient's urine in order to track any urinary tract infection (UTI), with a caregiver able to scan a QR code on the front of the diaper and have the data sent to their smartphone.
Vigilant, a Swiss firm, has meanwhile developed a smart insulin injection tracker, which comes in the form of an electronic cap fitting most insulin pens, and transmitting insulin injection data to an app. Proteus Digital Health, on the other hand, is bringing IoT to pills, launching an ingestible sensor within a pill that tracks a patient’s medication schedule.
These devices also serve to open new markets for companies looking to get into the IoT healthcare space. Since many of them require follow-up consultation with a doctor or other type of healthcare professional, there is an opening for more, smarter devices that can deliver more valuable data and further decrease the need for direct patient-doctor interaction.
One of the major benefits of these advancements in IoT in the healthcare sector is that support can become more efficient, enabling healthcare professionals to keep an eye on the health of their patients without the need for hospitalization or regular visits. Senior citizens particularly stand to benefit. With IoT technologies employed in the home, they can live more independently, with reduced costs and less need for additional caregiver resources.
Some obstacles remain to the development of the sector, however, most notably, as ever, around data privacy and security. Most of the above devices have secure methods of communicating health information to the cloud, but they are still targets for hackers and could be vulnerable. Increasingly, however, regulators will develop frameworks for connected devices utilized in the healthcare sector, something already evident with the release by the United States Food and Drug Administration of guidelines for medical IoT devices. Regulation will catch up, but it will always be behind the pace of innovation in a sector that looks to be as lucrative for investors as it is efficient for healthcare professionals and patients alike.
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Brian is a life-long software developer who loves to help others succeed. A frequent source for media outlets, such as BBC, Entrepreneur and Bloomberg, Brian also frequently speaks at universities, conferences and the like. His new book, "Unravelling the Internet of Things" will be available soon on Amazon.com.