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The Internet of Things (IoT) is a way of describing communication between devices that use the internet, such as security systems, cars, smartphones and even vending machines.
The healthcare sector has taken its time to get to grips with the Internet of Things but, now that it's happening, medical IoT has really taken off. It's thought the market will reach £117 billion in value by 2020 - that's only four years away.
Here are some ways the health sector is getting involved with the Internet of Things.
Wearable tech such as Fitbit or Jawbone are now commonplace; body-sensing technologies and the internet are in bed together and show no sign of getting out. Big players like Apple and Google have realised the potential and they've invested.
Fitness tech helps people take responsibility for their health. It gives them reassurance that progress is underway and encourages them to stay on track. For example, a fitness app will measure the output of a run and figure out calorie loss on the user's pre-programmed diet plan. No doctor's visit is required; no personal trainer needs to be paid.
We know the NHS is on its knees, and the Internet of Things may be able to help.
There is potential for doctors and nurses to monitor their patients through the internet. Wearables capable of taking measurements and uploading that information to the cloud enable medical professionals to observe without even being present. This saves time, travel and expense. It's possible the patient will feel more comfortable too, after all no-one like to travel when they're ill.
The NHS can also take advantage of new robotics including operation techniques, 3D limb printing, and a whole new set of therapies guided by app. The car manufacturer Ford is even creating a way of notifying a nearby hospital if a driver suffers a heart attack. Nothing is off limits with regards to integrating healthcare and IoT. In the future we may swallow ingestible cameras, allergy sufferers may wear electronic tattoos and insulin trackers may transmit data to doctors in real time to avoid serious illness.
The medical IoT contributes to patient knowledge. It allows them to lead independent lives. In danger of forgetting medication? There's an app for that. Need help to monitor asthma? You've guessed it.
Former IT Director of the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, James Norman, suggests that 'internet connected data streams will help the public live better lives through better knowledge.' This means less demand on the creaking NHS as its healthcare providers deal with tailored treatments. There's still a way to go
Particularly with sensitive data. For example King's College Hospital NHS Foundation has chosen to use an app to help patients with chronic arthritis. The app allows users to provide information in advance of their appointment. It's useful, but the app is not allowed to connect to the record system. Indeed, internet security and patient confidentiality is lagging behind medical IoT. It's an albatross to work around, but no doubt it'll happen given the exponential leaps forward that have happened recently. The future of healthcare is digital.