As those of us working on the front end of the IoT revolution can imagine, there are numerous ways that IoT can be of greater service in dealing with future epidemic or pandemic disease outbreaks. Certainly, many smart connected technologies are already at work; however, more can be done. Some of the following healthcare IoT strategies could improve our response time and quality of response to future outbreaks.:
Smart connected devices to remotely monitor health conditions and vital sign
Devices that can remotely sense data such as body temperature for all members of the house could be an important technological development, because elevated body temperature is one of the key signs of the onset of a virus such as COVID-19. The widespread deployment of IoT remote sensors to monitor body temperatures and changes in body temperatures could help identify potential hot spots in the population. For example, the media has recently been talking about the health technology company Kinsa’s smart thermometer that crowd sources fevers and can help predict outbreaks in particular geographical locations.
Improved telemedicine tools to minimize the number of health care workers in the vicinity of the infected
Minimizing the number of healthcare professionals in the vicinity of positively infected individuals is of key importance. What is needed is an IoT solution that enables one healthcare professional in the vicinity of the patient to be networked with and become the eyes and ears of a larger network of healthcare service providers. Head-mounted smart-connected camera technology would enable this in a manner that keeps the healthcare worker’s hands free to do their job, while being in communication audibly and visually with remote staff.
Widely-dispersed data acquisition apps for capture of anecdotal information
IoT technology could also gather and process the vast amounts of anecdotal data related to patient symptoms and the effects of remediation techniques deployed to stem the tide of the virus. An example of this would be capturing the anecdotal experiences of all the individuals using anti-malarial drugs. Though not intended to fight COVID-19, many doctors have been prescribing such medications to patients in the hope that they could be helpful. Such individuals may not be part of any formal FDA invoked clinical trial; however, capturing such anecdotal experiences could prove helpful for rapid assessment of efficacy and safety.
Smart monitoring of equipment and consumables and matching to needs
We are hearing daily about the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, which are all required to help improve patient outcomes and to drive safety for healthcare workers and others in contact with patients. RFID tagged consumables and MedTech hardware deployed with a robust tag- sensing infrastructure and tied to data analytics, could help ensure that the right materials are in the right place at the right time. As things stand now, it is likely that there are supply surpluses in locations not in need of reserves of PPE and ventilators, while other locations are critically short. Trend analysis tied to better understanding of the number of patients actively in need at any given time and the anticipated change in the number of patients tied to the supply can ensure that the right materials are on hand when needed. The IoT sensing of equipment and consumables can be a critical part of this solution.
Monitoring the flow of those testing positive for COVID-19
This is the one nobody wants to know about, but, civil liberties aside, IoT technology exists in smartphones, watches and tablets to track the movement of those who are diagnosed as positive for COVID-19. It is well known that quarantine of those testing positive is important. The devices everyone carries are in essence IoT data acquisition devices for location tracking.
While the technologies described here are not widely in use today, it is not a huge leap forward to prepare the infrastructure for a future outbreak, or even to begin using them now and reaping the potential benefits for patients. IoT technologies could help prepare for future disruptive pandemics. Virus DNA is highly malleable and adaptable to survival and propagation in ways not yet well understood. When the smoke starts to clear from the focus on the most immediate crucial needs – including PPE and ventilators — there will be opportunities to enhance the ability to track the progression of disease, provide crucial data for remediation strategies and distribute crucially needed resources.
Many healthcare and tech companies are actively pursuing solutions to provide relief during the current pandemic, and looking to the future with the hope that everyone can work together to avert some of the current shortcomings and shortages facing healthcare providers and their patients who test positive for COVID-19. IoT technology currently plays a role in healthcare and will play an even more important role in future solutions. If we can all band together to share and learn from each other, we can improve future healthcare outcomes.
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