Covid-19 crisis highlights IoT benefits in a wide range of areas spanning from contact tracing to chronic condition monitoring
The unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic has put healthcare services on the frontlines under immense pressure. It has not just had to address the crisis within hospitals but also have had to provide ongoing medical care for patients at home and in other health services facilities.
As I work with IoT I think it’s very interesting to see how IoT has become a positive enabler in this pandemic crisis, as it continues to connect devices and equipment with the patients that especially need it now. It has been especially vital in relation to services provided remotely and on-site by healthcare staff. Below I share some of my reflections of how IoT assists with efficiency and safety levels that is demanded by both healthcare professionals and the patients.
The world is now entering a new stage where many countries are gradually following a planned opening strategy. As this is happening there are now early signs emerging of a second wave of new infections.
An example of this is South Korea that had handled the first phase in a very resolute and effective way but now again needs to make changes, in order to stop this wave of infections and decrease the risk of virus spreading.
I found a good example in the TraceTogether app that was launched in Singapore to boost COVD-19 contact tracing efforts. By downloading the app and consenting to participate in it, TraceTogether allows users to “proactively help” in the contact tracing process. What is important is that information is only shared if you are found to be infected. The app works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other users of the app who are in close proximity. The definition of close proximity is two metres apart, or up to five metres, for 30 minutes.
IoT is proving its value here by enabling the tracking and tracing of staff in caring for out-hospital patients as well as keeping themselves monitored for infection. Data gained here is being used to assist to minimize risks and infections.
Another practical way in which IoT is utilised is for tracking of assets such as ventilators and how they are deployed where they are most needed. Monitoring of the maintenance of assets increases the success in healthcare services delivery.
Tracking of cleaning activities supports the facilities with patients but also protects the cleaning services teams. Areas that need disinfection can be identified and then properly prioritised according to usage levels.
Away from the frontline of combatting Covid-19, there are billions of chronic disease sufferers globally who cannot attend hospitals or doctors’ surgeries for routine treatment. IoT can have an enormous effect here to monitor conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart problems via connected, wearable devices and applications that reduce the need for patients to attend physical consultations. Research firm Berg Insight has reported that about 18 million people in North America were using connected care solutions at the end of 2018, with remote patient monitoring accounting for most users. The firm, before Covid-19, estimated this figure to reach 49.4 million connected care users by 2024. Now, growth is likely to accelerate.
These solutions enabled by IoT are for example for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) sufferers and heart illness patients, with devices – from heart rate monitors to blood pressure sensors. During Covid-19 lockdowns, sending nurses to homes to monitor heart rates or blood pressure is a high-risk activity that IoT can eliminate or reduce with solutions of this type. Wearables can be used to monitor users and provide information about health data such as body temperature and heart rate, track patient locations and send alerts in an emergency. The more patient care that IoT can enable to be done at home, the less risk patients expose themselves as well as medical professionals.
IoT is part of the line providing healthcare services today and even more as we move into the future. It takes away routine tasks such as monitoring of chronic illness and ultimately frees up medical professionals’ time to focus helping Covid-19 sufferers and others with medical conditions that also require continued care.