The concept of the Internet of Things is becoming more common in everyday society, from controlling household lights and appliances to having 24-hour security access. The Internet of Things is also starting to make its way into the medical field. At this time, society is limited to external devices that can be connected to the internet. However, what if we could monitor internal medical devices also? It would allow for quicker and sometimes life-saving treatment. Advances in the medical field are happening every day. One advance is the increase in virtual appointments, especially in today’s pandemic world. By being able to monitor patients remotely, doctors can do two things.
Firstly, qualified doctors can reach isolated populations that would typically not receive timely, quality care. Secondly, with remote virtual visits, the vulnerable population is still able to stay safe at home. During the COVID19 pandemic, less critically ill patients were able to be sent home and continuously monitored. Thus, freeing up much-needed hospital resources and space for critically ill patients but still receiving the quality care and monitoring that the patients needed.
One of the main reasons virtual monitoring is possible is the creation of the wearable biosensor. The wearable biosensor was adapted from fitness equipment such as the Fitbit. The biosensor can connect wirelessly to the internet and be connected to a secure network for continuous monitoring. This allowed for timely intervention with any sign of deterioration in the patient’s condition. However, there are shortcomings to this.
The equipment and monitoring are only good if the patient is compliant with wearing. Also, it depends on how well the patient understands to use it. Operator error could result in delayed treatment or even death. Often it takes skilled personnel to set up a virtual site just to run the monitoring or assessment equipment. Often experienced personnel are in short supply. However, if there was an internal monitoring device, the user error or expertise could be taken out of the equation. A doctor could pull up the network and look at the patient’s vital signs with the click of a button.
For example, a cardiologist could connect to a patient’s pacemaker/defibrillator to view recent activity if a patient complains of different, often vague, or hard to describe symptoms, instead of scheduling the patient for outpatient testing and waiting longer for results. Treatment could begin sooner, resulting in reduced damage to the patient, quicker symptom relief, and reduced medical costs.
One of the more challenging parts of treating patients in compliance with medical treatment plans. Sometimes patients are not always truthful with their provider. The patient may be embarrassed or so prideful that they cannot financially afford a particular medical treatment or medication that they do not tell the medical provider the whole truth. Or patients sometimes do not like the treatment or cure and lie to their medical provider because they do not want “another lecture on their health.”
However, non-compliance with medical treatment plans worsens the patients’ medical conditions, rehospitalizations, and even early death. One example of this is a BiPap machine. Nowadays, the patient has to bring in the device, and the memory card has to be read. However, in the future, the engine could be wireless internet compatible to easy connectivity anywhere with an internet connection. The medical provider could quickly check if the machine use complies—another example in the blood glucose machine.
We are starting to see wireless-capable devices. The patient wears a patch and uses a glucometer or cellphone to wirelessly take their blood glucose reading and even connect to an insulin pump if needed. Even their medical provider has limited access to view data with the patients’ permission to help manage their health and make adjustments in a timelier manner.
Another field that is seeing the benefits of the internet of things is the medical prosthetic field. The image being able to have a malfunctioning prosthetic troubleshot and adjusted remotely. Prosthetics are expensive pieces of equipment that are essential to some people. Having to take that into a shop every time something goes wrong can be costly. Minor repairs are put off for as long as possible due to the hassle of getting into a qualified technician. Minor repairs then often turn into major repairs or even having to replace the whole prosthetic. The length of time the patient is without the prosthetic affects the quality of their daily lives. Having someone remotely connect to the prosthetic would reduce costs, save time, and improve the patient’s quality of life. These are just a few examples of how the internet of things connects devices in the medical world today or in the near future to improve patient care and lives. However, the possibilities for the future are limitless.
For example, what if the medical field was able to help a person with quadriplegia or paraplegic move and walk again. If a medical provider were able to place a wireless microchip in the patient’s brain, that microchip could then be connected to a wide range of devices. From prosthetic limbs or implanted nerve stimulators so that the patient could control limb movement wirelessly with thought through the microchip. Also, the microchip could connect with a computer or phone so that the patient could navigate the internet or call someone with a simple thought. They were making it easier to communicate with the outside world.
The microchip could also be connected to future nanomachines. Nanomachines would have a wide range of uses—imagine in the future everyone having nanomachines and microchips in your body. With just a thought, a person with diabetes could check their blood glucose, or someone with hypertension could check their blood pressure. Medical providers could wirelessly perform surgery with an idea. Thereby reducing the intraoperative and postoperative complications. Surgeries could be performed in a timely manner in all areas of the world through an internet connection. Different cancers could be treated without all of the side effects of medications today, increasing the survival rate. With the good, there comes the bad.
At the same time, there are many good things to come from the Internet of Things, even in the medical field. We are obligated to be careful as a society. Security, privacy, and equality must be carefully monitored throughout becoming more and more connected. It would be easy to misuse or unfairly apply an advanced connection network. For example, hackers could take over a network and either ransom patient information or even cause physical harm to the patient. Hackers could ransom a person’s life with just a few push buttons due to over connection and integration with the internet. Careful thought will have to go into connecting we want to be and how many contacts we can safely handle. While many of these advancements in the medical field are far into the future, not all are. The Internet of Things is helping to connect society in all aspects of life, especially in the medical field. The more connected we become, the more we can improve our everyday lives as long as we remain vigilant.

Author's Bio: 

I am a computer science professor. Being a tech enthusiast I keep close tabs on trends and will be glad to share and discuss the latest wrapups in the field with the community.