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Medical Devices are Leading the IoT Revolution, Not Consumer Ones

April 14, 2019 by Luke James

The IoT has opened the doors to endless opportunities within healthcare and medicine. When your ordinary, run of the mill medical devices are supplemented with connectivity and added to the IoT, they can collect invaluable information, data, and provide healthcare professionals with greater insight into the patient.

Generally, this means a better quality of care than the patients themselves have control over.


Medicine and the IoT

As the IoT grows and connected devices become more commonplace, industries are battling to associate each and every last thing they use with it. Medicine and healthcare are no exception; there is widespread adoption of medical devices that are connected to one another.

If IoT is to boom as market research has suggested it will, medicine and healthcare are set to benefit hugely, possibly more than any other industry. In fact, several devices have already been deployed and are widely used for patient care. We will look at some examples of these later.


Image courtesy of Eversense.


These devices can transmit data from patients' homes to clinics and hospitals, facilitate real-time monitoring of a patient's health—useful for patients who have just been discharged—and summon emergency assistance with the push of a button.

It is not only in situations where a person is suffering from ill health when wearable devices are useful. Fitness bands such as the Fitbit or the Health app on the Apple Watch collect vital information from our bodies throughout the day and save it to the cloud for future reference or ongoing monitoring by the end user.


It's Not All About Wearables

While wearables are great for tracking metrics and gathering data, they are not the be all and end all in HIoT.

Talking medical devices—for example, devices that remind patients to take their medication, check their blood pressure, or check their blood sugar—is also a huge HIoT market. Some are even akin to in-home health advisors who train newly-diagnosed patients about the ins and outs of their condition, provide ongoing advice, and help prepare patients for surgery.

Medical staff are benefiting from the use of connected medical devices, too. Talking thermometers, plasters that can detect when a wound has healed, and devices that provide notifications when a prescription needs to be refilled are just a few of several examples.


Examples of Established IoT Medical Devices

Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM)

Diabetes, naturally, has proven itself to be a valuable area for the development of connected medical devices. As a fairly common condition affecting one in ten adults that requires the self-administration of treatment, devices that continuously monitor blood sugar levels have grown rapidly. 

A CGM helps diabetics monitor their blood sugar levels by regularly taking readings at intervals. While CGMs are nothing new, smart CGMs such as Eversense send blood glucose data to smartphone apps. This enables diabetic patients to continuously conveniently keep an eye on their blood sugar, detect trends, and take action when necessary.


Connected Inhalers

Just like diabetes, asthma is a very common condition throughout the world. Smart tech and the IoT is beginning to provide asthma sufferers with insight and a higher degree of control over their symptoms and treatment through connected inhalers and sensors.


Image courtesy of Propeller Health.


Propeller Health, founded in 2010, is one company manufacturing these. Collaborating with major pharma companies such as GSK—a natural collaboration brought about by Propeller’s CE and FDA approval and GSK’s huge, global stature within the inhaler market—Propeller's sensor now works with most inhalers by attaching to a regular 'dumb' inhaler and collecting data about what's in the air around it when it is used.

This reduces the hassle of managing asthma and helps sufferers avoid its triggers.

Speaking about how Propeller came into being, David Van Sickle, Propeller’s CEO and co-founder, said:

At the CDC, I had been working for the National Asthma Control Program, and doing outbreak investigations for the agency and was frustrated by how a lack of timely and objective data would limit our ability to target, evaluate, or apply public health interventions to asthma and COPD. [...] I started thinking about how to measure and understand asthma in the community from more of a bottom-up approach.”


Ingestible Sensors for Monitoring Medication

Ingestible sensors allow medical staff and the patients' close friends and family to monitor adherence and ensure that medication is being taken.

Proteus Digital Health's 'digital pill' dissolves in the stomach and releases a small, harmless signal that can be picked up by a body-worn sensor. When the sensor picks up this signal, data is transmitted to a smartphone app to confirm that the pill has been taken. Given that statistics estimate that over 50% of prescribed medicines are not taken as directed (or taken at all!), particularly by patients who suffer from degenerative brain diseases, the usefulness of so-called 'digital pills' is huge.


Medical Devices are Addressing Real Issues

Consumer IoT devices are great and all but they provide more of a convenience than anything else.

On the other hand, connected medical devices address raw issues for patients, medical staff, and the healthcare industry on the whole—an industry where demand for treatment stands heads and shoulders above the available supply of it.

As more and more connected medical devices hit the market and lead the IoT's ongoing development, digital healthcare is set to become a reality for all.

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