Connected Health, or IoT as your best lifeline

Beatriz Sanz Baños    15 September, 2015

IoT started mainly as a way of automating industrial and mechanical processes that relied heavily on human intervention. Yet one of the biggest yearnings of mankind has always been to imitate and foresee human behaviour (from where robotics was born). Most recently we interact with computers that are so small we can literally wear them (being wearables the most advanced iteration yet of consumer electronics).

Going to the doctor has always been something mainly human, carried out by highly qualified professionals that are deemed custodians of a great deal of society’s wellbeing. Technology was a sidekick assistant that provided insight to complicated diagnoses and help in health premises.

Now that technological advances are pushing the limits further and further into what devices can do to aid and even replace doctors and nurses, the Science of Health has entered a new connected era. eHealth allows imagining a future where our society – inevitably aging due to plummeting birth rates – will be in the ‘expert hands’ of the IoT as much or even more than it will be in the hands of human doctors and nurses.

‘Expecting’ to be connected

Expectant mothers have an unbelievable amount of information at their disposal that exponentially surpasses the data that their own mothers had when pregnant. The IoT in recent times has meshed with fashion designers to manufacture pregnancy fashionwear that is both well designed and picks up relevant information for pregnant mothers. Blake Uretsky, a Cornwell University undergraduate in Fiber Science and Apparel Design, has developed a fashion collection named the “B” Maternity Wearables. The garments have silver fibres that connect to a concealed sensor that monitors heart rate, body temperature, blood rate, and respiration levels relaying data to the smartphone. Uretsky combination of sleek design and practical technology have awarded her several industry prizes and grants to boost her career as a designer.

Fitness wearables mix well with eHealth

Uretsky’s work is an example of how universities are deeply involved in investigating and developing IoT solutions for the health industry. Spanish Universidad de Santiago’s CiTIUS Center is researching in the field of cardiology. They have developed technology to have always on technology tracking heart electrical activity and enable alerts of anomalies in real time. This technology is expected to be included in wearables and has received the recognition of the Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics publishing the research.

Fitness wearable devices (especially pedometers and HRMs) have offered a solid testing ground for creating valid use case of how to pick up vitals in movement and store and retrieve relevant data over the Internet. A new generation of bracelets will transfer this gained knowledge to the eHealth industry.

The complexity of adding eHealth data is to separate the relevant from the irrelevant for medical purposes. The moment someone walks into a medical centre or if the medical rapid response team receives a health alert from a patient’s wearable, these professionals should already have the patient’s relevant medical vitals (streamed over the Internet). This huge pool of data must be adequately treated in terms of security and privacy and must be accessible at the same time by other health centres the patient might visit.

The eHealth Industry in figures

34 million healthcare wearables will be sold this year in an $867 million dollar market. Adoption rate and user enthusiasm exceeds other technologies and up to 80% of polled consumers believe “wearable technology can make healthcare more convenient” and most believe wearable tech has “improved their health and fitness” according to an infographic by Boston Technology.

Fitness and Wellness as testing grounds for eHealth devices has blended both uses and this mix is here to stay. Sleep sensors, hearing aids, HRM Monitors, postural trainers, health patches, insulin pumps, PERS devices and even defibrillators will stop being limited to hospitals and health centers and become consumer electronics anyone can buy with a medical prescription in some cases (maybe provided by a Big Data backend instead of a ‘real’ doctor).

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