Connected Medical Devices: The Rise of Smart Health Solutions
Innovation is a hallmark of the medtech industry. This has been noticeable with the integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) and healthcare. As connected technology becomes more intertwined in our daily lives, it only makes sense that we are witnessing an increase in health connected devices and the growth of the connected medical device market. The number of connected medical devices in the market is expected to increase exponentially over the next decade as more providers are turning to connected health solutions to enhance patient care.
What Are Connected Medical Devices?
Connected medical devices are medical devices that are capable of connecting to the internet through WiFi, Bluetooth, or radio transmission. These medical devices have digital capabilities beyond the basic function of diagnosing, treating, curing, or preventing disease, allowing them to integrate with, and connect to, other networks and systems. Some electromechanical medical devices like imaging machines, clinician-monitored wearable fitness trackers, and automated drug delivery devices are examples of connected health devices.
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
To understand connected medical devices, it’s important to understand the Internet of Medical Things. Also known as IoMT, the Internet of Medical Things is a connected infrastructure of medical devices, software applications, and healthcare information technology systems and services. The IoMT connects data (patient information or performance data), people (patients, clinicians, and caregivers) and processes (healthcare delivery and patient support) with the help of connected medical devices and medical mobile applications.
What Are Some Examples of Wireless Medical Device Connectivity?
Wireless device-to-device or device-to-internet connections are made possible in three primary ways.
- WiFi: WiFi uses a radio frequency signal to wirelessly connect devices to the Internet and each other. This signal can be picked up by wireless-capable devices when they are within the WiFi signal range. In the case of connected medical devices, WiFi connectivity provides a variety of benefits: automatic device updates can be applied remotely, data can be uploaded to, downloaded from, and stored in the cloud, etc.
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth technology connects devices over a short distance. In healthcare, Bluetooth medical devices are used to give patients the ability to wirelessly connect their medical devices. An example of this would be a wearable device that monitors heart rate and pulse oximetry, and then displays that data in an app on the patient’s smartphone.
- Radio Transmission: Using radio frequency to transmit data is the oldest of these three methods. Radio frequency has been used to connect short-range medical devices for years. In fact, the world’s first fully wireless pacemaker contained a low-power radio transmitter that automatically sent data from the device to a home transmitter, where it could then be viewed by the physician via an Internet link.
The Benefits of Connected Medical Devices
Connected health devices and the IoMT offer a number of direct benefits to patients and providers within the healthcare industry.
- Real-Time Patient Monitoring: Connected medical devices can monitor patient behavior in real-time and transmit that data directly to care providers. This data tracking can happen in the hospital or in home healthcare settings. In hospitals, the high number of patients means that constant monitoring of important information such as vital sign data isn’t always possible. Smart patient monitoring systems provide nurses and doctors with updates and alerts of vital patient information like heart rate and oxygen saturation without requiring them to continually visit a patient’s room. Take-home versions of health connected devices can monitor patient symptoms and diagnostics while sharing that data with care providers, allowing for better home monitoring and potentially reducing the need for follow-up visits.
- More Personalized Care: With consistent and accurate patient data, physicians can make better, more personalized decisions about patient care. As physicians gain insights into patient behavior, they can track the effectiveness of certain therapies and make adjustments as needed. For example, a doctor may prescribe a medication that comes in a container with an embedded sensor, recording how often the bottle is opened and at what time. This will let the provider know how often medication is being accessed and can lead to greater medication compliance.
- Increased Safety: Connected devices and the IoMT may make it possible to predict device malfunctions before they happen or before they cause serious adverse events. Through cloud-connectivity, these devices can be surveilled more effectively by manufacturers and technical teams. Early warning alerts can be issued if something may be wrong, allowing the potential problem to be addressed before it becomes a large-scale outage or takes critical systems offline.
What Are the Challenges Associated with Connected Health Devices?
- Privacy and Security: Connected health devices collect and transmit sensitive personal health information, making them vulnerable to data breaches and unauthorized access to patient data.
- Accuracy and Reliability: Proper calibration is required to provide accurate readings and incorrect calibration can lead to incorrect diagnoses or treatment plans. If there is human error and the Instructions For Use (IFU) of the device are not being followed, it could result in the device relaying inconsistent or incomplete data.
- Interoperability: There are numerous manufacturers producing connected health devices, making it challenging to ensure all devices communicate with each other and other healthcare systems efficiently. The more unique connected health devices that reach the market, the more gaps we may see in existing healthcare operations.
- Cost: The price of connected health devices can be a significant barrier to entry for some patients, especially those without insurance or with limited financial resources. This can result in disparities of well-being, where patients with access to connected health devices may receive superior care compared to those without.
The Future of Connected Devices in Medtech
The global IoT in healthcare market is expected to grow 21% between 2020 and 2025, and it’s estimated that the medical device segment currently holds the biggest share of this market. The penetration of connected medical devices in a variety of areas within the healthcare industry, a growing preference among clinicians for real-time data monitoring, and a need for digital healthcare solutions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic are all contributing factors to the rise in connected medtech and IoMT. Technological advancements will continue driving the development of more connected medical devices that can generate, collect, analyze, share, and store valuable health data.
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