The boom in Internet of Things devices and sensors shows no signs of abating. Even with a global chip shortage, analysts predict that there will be more than 14 billion IoT sensors by the end of 2022, growing to 27 billion in 2025.

Such is the deployment and mainstream acceptance of IoT that it would be easier to list those sectors that aren’t investing in networks of sensors and connected devices. Healthcare is no exception.

The impact of IoT in healthcare 

The IoT in healthcare boom

IoT in healthcare covers a huge range of applications. From wearables capable of monitoring patients in and out of care settings to measuring production machinery (whether for personal protective equipment, vaccines, or anything in between), as our blog notes, IoT is becoming increasingly common in a variety of health-related environments.

Even the most innocuous of equipment can be connected, including:

  • Sensors on wheelchairs
  • Connected heart monitors
  • Dialysis machines and insulin pumps
  • Smart beds

All of these can not only gather data but allow a greater number of patients to be monitored by specialist staff, with proactive interventions available at a greater scale. So, a consultant could receive live updates on patients in several wards, with a direct line to the ward staff to support ongoing care, without needing to be there in person. In doing so, patients receive the same level of treatment without adding to the workload of increasingly stretched staff.

The IoT-powered automation of healthcare resources

IoT has a critical role in automating processes that could fail when they depend on humans alone. The key focus is on relieving the burden on healthcare staff, freeing them to focus on treatment and care.

For instance, deploying IoT sensors could support:

  • Monitoring inventory and increasing availability of equipment: Significant time is spent locating equipment and making sure it is in the right place. Using sensors would help locate devices and ensure that the right equipment is in the right place, cutting staff and patient waiting times. But it goes further; sensors could also highlight what state assets are in and how ready they are to be used. Even something as straightforward as knowing how many beds are clean and made, ready for patients, helps manage resources across sprawling hospital estates without tying up ward staff unnecessarily.
  • Increase efficiency by redirecting labour: Managing all the equipment and inventory manually is a necessary but at times overwhelming responsibility for stretched staff, leading to lengthy turnaround times and increased waiting. Accessible, accurate data on inventory location and status ensures healthcare workers are efficient in finding and using assets.
  • Avoiding wastage: IoT-connected fridges can alert the relevant teams that expensive medicines and vaccines are close to expiry, ensuring that accurate information is available to support decision-making and improve the use of resources.

IoT puts the word “care” back into patient care, rather than healthcare professionals wasting attention and “care” on other operational aspects outside of their hired skill set. It’s about helping healthcare providers keep capital costs low, allocate resources appropriately, provide patient care promptly, and ensure facilities, whether hospitals, clinics, or surgery, are operating effectively.

Empowering patients to manage their health proactively

And that’s before we consider the range of devices available directly to consumers that help monitor health signals. The barriers to entry (typically price) have dropped as more and more businesses enter the market, all of whom have existing relationships with the general public. Everyone from Apple to Google is developing and launching smart devices that can measure human vital signs like a heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing rates, and temperature– all in real-time.

The result is patients no longer must search online or make unscheduled doctor visits if something doesn’t feel right. Backend analysis, built into mobile apps, helps monitor patients’ health. While it isn’t commonplace yet, we’re rapidly reaching a point where people will be able to alert their doctor immediately if something isn’t right, without even consciously knowing it. Their wearable can tell their phone to alert their local healthcare provider to what’s wrong.

IoT and proactive care and treatment

It might seem like the link between a sensor on a hospital bed and an Apple Watch is tenuous at best, but what both are doing is contributing to the more effective use of resources to, ultimately, deliver better, more proactive care and treatment to patients. In doing so, healthcare providers can make the best use of their resources, and more people can either prevent themselves from falling ill or recover faster when they do so.