The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed glaring fault lines in the medical care infrastructure, and in emergency health response systems around the globe. After being caught off-guard, the question that is being raised to every stakeholder in the global health system is if technology can be deployed to test, trace and quarantine potentially infected people in order to ease the overwhelming burden along the care pathway.
The ongoing pandemic has been a brutal reminder of how unprepared the world is against a novel infection. Despite innumerable lessons from history, with some being very recent (Ebola and Zika), we are still not prepared. If there was to be one positive take-away from this situation, it would be that the world (as a collective) owns some very powerful technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT). It just needs to be properly leveraged by the industry, with the support of the academia/government, for relevant use cases in healthcare.
Within a matter of months, an apparent surge in projects using IoT to tackle the challenges of the medical system, has given a strong boost to the adoption of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) in the health ecosystem.
Managing Hospital Overload by Delivering Care to the Home
Masimo, an American medical technology company, recent announced the full market release of Masimo SafetyNet™, a cloud-based patient management solution that is designed to help clinicians manage the growing number of Covid-19 cases. This has enabled hospitals to remotely monitor patients in alternative care settings, such as emergency recovery facilities and homes. It uses a wearable, tether-less, single-patient-use sensor to monitor a patient's pulse rate, perfusion index, blood oxygen saturation and respiration rate, and PVi®. It can be particularly useful for managing cancer patients who have acquired the coronavirus infection, as they would be at a greater risk of worsening symptoms or death, if admitted in an in-patient setting.
Medical Device Design and Production to Meet Overwhelming Demand
In India, under an agreement between the Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT-K) led consortium and Ansys, a global engineering simulation company, an IIT-K incubated start-up—Nocca Robotics Private Limited—has started development on a modular, power efficient, low-cost ventilator. These ventilators have a functional IoT-enabled design, allowing multiple ventilators to be controlled via remote control, which improves the utilization of hospitals’ resources.
Surveillance of Social Distancing
A study performed by MIT indicates that in the spread of vector-borne diseases, even when corresponding to intra-city distances, human mobility is a major factor. By overlaying IoT mobile data with geographic information system (GIS), epidemiologists can expedite their search for patient zero, while authorities can track-down individuals who may have been infected by coming into contact with other infected patients. High risk profile residents returning to Hong Kong have received an electronic wristband and have been mandated to stay home for a 14-day quarantine. The band is synced to a phone application, that uses ‘geofencing’ technology to track the movement of wearers, while also alerting authorities if they leave the predefined zones.
Catching Early Warning Signals for Contact Tracing and Prospecting
Vital statistics from wearables and wellness apps are being used to identify asymptomatic cases. Whoop, a Boston based wearable fitness start-up, has partnered with The Cleveland Clinic and Central Queensland University in Australia. By using the health data collected by the fitness wristband, The Cleveland Clinic and Central Queensland University are studying the changes in respiration rates. Their scientists are investigating the possible “connection between changes in respiratory rate and Covid-19 symptoms” in order to develop an early-warning signal for those infected with Covid-19 but are not yet exhibiting any symptoms. Similarly, in partnership with KaHa (an IoT smart wearables developer), Advanced Remote Monitoring LLC (AARM) has announced a 360-degree solution for monitoring and isolating Covid-19 patients. It leverages smart wearable technology such as armtrackrCCM+ wristband to check the heart rate, temperature and other metrics remotely and provide the latest data to doctors or health authorities. The wristband even illustrates the spread of the pandemic in particular areas by using heat maps.
The Future of IoMT
The lessons we are learning from this experience will prepare IoMT to improve the management of future pandemics. Aside from lightening the burden for medical devices, it will also witness greater applications in clinical trials. By measuring patients' progress and real-time effect of new drugs and vaccines, it is possible for researchers to conduct decentralized trials and potentially expedite the development of a vaccine.
With a systematic approach towards public and private partnership, cross-industry collaboration and broader acceptance of technology in healthcare systems, IoMT could see stronger use cases. IoMT could also see steep growth in the near-future, due to its significant role in fixing some of the fault lines in global healthcare and disaster prevention measures near the end of this crisis.
In the next article, the authors will weigh-in on whether new trends and inter-sectoral industry collaborations will disrupt or define the future of health care in the next decade.