How the Internet of Things Impacts Health Care

As a wide range of industries rely more and more on the Internet of Things (IoT) to make life more seamless, individuals are recording and sharing information at unprecedented levels. Suddenly your watch can tell you how healthy you are, your bed can tell you how well you slept, and your refrigerator can text you when you are running low on milk. Your personal adviser device sitting on your nightstand can wake you up, tell you what kind of clothes to wear for today’s weather, and remind you that it is your mother’s birthday. The increase in convenience, accuracy, and connectedness is truly amazing as technology intertwines work, play, health, and community. 

It should, then, be no surprise the health care industry is looking for ways to leverage the emerging technology of the IoT to make health care more accurate, efficient, and affordable. Recent reports estimate that nearly 73% of health care organizations currently use IoT devices for maintenance and monitoring, with another 14% expected to join the trend by 2019. This pushes the health care industry to the forefront of IoT pioneers, and the benefits can be observed immediately. 

  1. More Accurate Care Along the Spectrum

From the moment an EMS agency is deployed to a call, to the day that patient is discharged from the hospital, creating and maintaining accurate patient files is easier than ever thanks to electronic patient care records (ePCRs). EMTs once had to create a patient record on five-layered carbon-copy pads, with each layer handed off to a different department at the receiving hospital. Physicians had to request certain records from the medical records department, and struggle to read the barely legible writing on the carbon copy. Hospital employees had to spend hours filing, searching, or aggregating hard copy records to complete audits, enter data, or find areas for improvement.  

Today’s leading electronic health record software offers an agnostic platform that can be easily used by EMS agencies and hospitals alike, with an easy digital handoff containing exponentially more accurate patient impression information. Preset forms can ensure that all the correct impression data is being recorded and help increase the number of complete records delivered to emergency departments.  

The electronic records then follow the patient through his or her treatment and are easily reviewed by physicians and hospital staff, helping decrease errors and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. Digital monitoring devices accurately record patient information, making it easier for physicians to make better treatment decisions. Finally, hospitals can easily share back the data with EMS agencies that are looking to improve their quality of care or working to complete an audit. Improvements in accuracy and efficiency can be seen at every point along the way. 

  1. Easier Data Processing Drives Down Costs

With hundreds of thousands of health data points now available, more accurate pictures of communities can be formed and accessed by health care providers and insurance companies alike. With more informed demographics information, intelligent decisions can be made as to where to build a new clinic, which specialties need to be represented where, and how to attract the right health care providers to the right community.  

Similarly, the abundance of data received from IoT devices can help insurance companies get a better picture of the challenges they may face in certain communities and act accordingly. Many insurance companies today employ patient care specialists – oftentimes current or former RNs – to follow up with patients and help ensure they are aware of the next steps of their care, have follow up appointments scheduled, and don’t have any questions.  

Even the simple act of ensuring that a patient has a primary care physician identified within the network can help reduce the number of unnecessary ER visits or out-of-network visits, lowering overall costs for insurance companies. Ideally, these savings will be passed along to patients in the form of lower (or, at least, un-raised) deductibles and co-pays, not to mention healthier longer, healthier lives. 

  1. Remote Care Making Access Easier for More Communities

Emerging technologies and IoT devices are making it easier for certain communities – like the home-bound, elderly, or those living in remote settings – to receive high quality health care. Thanks to accurate digital monitoring and easy-to-use communication devices, physicians can “see” more patients remotely, and receive data from patients on a regular basis without needing an in-office appointment. 

This capability cannot only help reduce costs to providers, but can improve health outcomes from at-risk populations, offering them more accessible tools for staying healthier. Whether it is a video conference with their PCP, a follow up email from an RN, or easy-to-use tools that allow them to self-monitor and report back to their providers, digital technology is lowering the barriers to communication. The tools can also be extremely useful in cases of natural disasters and emergencies, where it is difficult to get enough health care providers on-scene in a timely manner.  

There is no doubt that the key to making health care more efficient means more than just the collection of data; there must also be ways of effectively processing it and then implementing effective next steps based on the results. As IoT devices continue to serve up more and more data points, health care providers must take a step back and clearly define what data is most important in making real-world improvements in their systems and communities. Today’s health care professionals are in the perfect position to make data work for them, and not the other way around. With the right tools and a clear plan, the IoT will continue to drive down costs, save more lives, and help more people live longer, healthier years.