By Beth Kotz
(Posted March 21, 2017)
We live in a data-driven world. Whether you realize it or not, you generate a tremendous volume of data about yourself every day. Every time you submit a Google search, use your smartphone, strap on a Fitbit or interact with virtually any internet-enabled object, you’re producing information. For better or worse, the Internet of Things – the ever-growing, interconnected network of everyday objects outfitted with internet connectivity and often other data-gathering sensors – offers the ability to generate, collect and make use of all this information in a seemingly endless variety of ways.
One of the fields in which the Internet of Things may be most beneficial is healthcare. Indeed, both patients and healthcare providers are already beginning to see glimpses of the power offered by the IoT. To see what all the fuss is about, let’s take a deeper look at how digital technology promises to offer quicker and more accurate diagnoses, improved patient tracking and engagement, better preventative care and other advantages.
The Power of Prediction
Most people associate health and wellness primarily with the act of treatment, but just as important – if not more so – is tracking, managing and predicting the development of various health conditions. By leveraging the huge volumes of data available through the Internet of Things, healthcare professionals can gain valuable new insights into both individual patients and wider trends. Tools already in development seek to use search queries, social media posts and other data to analyze trends in seasonal flu outbreaks, while data gathered from wearable technologies like fitness-tracking bands and smart watches may offer new insights into patient behavior, personal health statistics and other important information.
Better Living Through Technology
While much of the focus has understandably been on the many ways the IoT may change the healthcare industry itself, patients also have good reason to be excited. Health-related apps have already made it easier than ever to access medical information such as treatment tips, medication dosage information and interaction warnings, vital sign tracking and more, and wearable tech has fueled a rise in beneficial exercise and physical activity. All of these forces are converging toward a shift in which the average person is capable of taking on a more active and responsible role in caring for their own health.
A Smarter, Healthier Future
The Internet of Things has already begun to change the face of healthcare, but the reality is that it remains a relatively new and emerging technology. The IoT is likely to take on a far greater role in health care in the years to come, helping to detect diseases earlier, prevent or minimize infectious disease outbreaks and more efficiently identify people who are at risk of certain health conditions. It will also be the driving force behind a more personalized and engaging health care paradigm.
By gathering information from everyday objects – including medical devices like inhalers, medication dispensers and insulin pens – doctors will be provided with a wealth of new information that can be used to provide highly personalized, targeted treatments and therapies. With sophisticated artificial intelligence software like the “Alexa” software inside Amazon’s Echo, you may even be able to carry a digital physician right in your pocket. This AI interface is now capable of answering common medical questions, and so may be able to provide dosage information for medications and handling other routine tasks that might otherwise require a call or trip to the doctor’s office.
The rise of the Internet of Things offers a potentially powerful tool for both patients and the health care providers who care for them. Though it’s still a relatively new and emerging technology, the ability to gather, analyze and interact with data from a tremendous variety of sources represents a revolutionary step forward in the way we think about health. Whatever the future may hold, the key to better health lies in smarter, more interconnected technology.
Beth Kotz is a freelance finance and tech writer with a strong interest in the “Internet of Things” and its potential for change. A graduate of DePaul University, she is currently based out of Chicago, Ill.0