Pressure on healthcare systems is ever mounting – increasingly so, since COVID-19, writes Paul Craig, Head of IoT, at OV. Outdated and slow technology only makes an already intense job more difficult.

However, the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing how healthcare is being delivered. Through wearable IoT devices and sensors, workers can now connect with their patients from afar, offering a high level of ’hands off’ care that was previously impossible.

By integrating these new technologies into healthcare, health workers, carers, and loved ones can monitor patients with more ease, improving the person’s experience while also reducing the strain on traditional healthcare solutions. Crucial to this, is reliable connectivity. Without it, new technologies, including all the benefits they bring to the sector, couldn’t work.

Measuring key health vitals

IoT has been game-changing in care. While previously, vulnerable patients had to move into health settings to receive the care they needed, with the help of IoT, more people can stay living in the comfort of their homes.

Remote care is made possible through several technologies. Perhaps most recognisable to the general public is wearable IoT technology. Like a smartwatch, these wearable devices measure the patients’ vitals, communicating the data to a health worker.

By monitoring patients’ key markers remotely, workers can detect when something is wrong or identify patterns that may lead to further illness. At this point, they will offer preventative medicine, reducing the possibility of patients reaching a point of ‘interventive’ treatment.

Monitoring wellbeing

Much like wearables, sensors installed around the house also share data on a patient’s movements. Rather than constantly communicating the person’s whereabouts, it only sends alerts when they haven’t followed their usual movements, helping carers and loved ones to identify when something isn’t right.

Offering reassurance through voice

Crucial to this technology is voice integration. Rather than picking up the phone, you can speak directly to the patient through IoT sensors. So, if you’re alerted because they haven’t moved, you can speak out, check if they’re okay, and offer reassurance. If you don’t get a response, you know it’s time to get to their house.

Voice IoT is also key to the effectiveness of a panic button. In an emergency, panic buttons are the go-to technology for at-risk patients living at home. They offer fast communication in an easy-to-use product.

Patients can easily access the button through wearable technology, which comes in differing forms, including watches or pendants. The panic button delivers location data and launches a voice call, allowing the patient to request assistance and the caregiver to notify them that help is on the way.

Remembering medication

When a vulnerable person lives alone, they must remember to take their medication to maintain their health. IoT pill dispensers help patients do just that. When it’s time to take the medicine, the device opens up like a carousel to remind the patient to take their pills; as well as notifying the caregiver when it has been removed.

Importantly, if the person does not take their medication, this will also be flagged. A carer or loved one can then communicate through the device, reminding the person why they need to take it. This removes the need for carers to travel to a patient’s home every time they require medication, freeing up the health worker’s time and reducing pressure on the health service.

Accelerating remote healthcare in COVID-19

The pandemic put immense strain on healthcare workers, accelerating the need for remote healthcare as hospitals struggled to meet the demand.

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While health workers were getting sick, the numbers of critical patients continued rising, putting pressure on staff, supplies, and raising safety concerns. The pressure needed relieving, and it became vital to deploy new technologies to alleviate demands from other sectors, such as care.

As the virus spread, individuals became increasingly afraid of leaving those especially vulnerable to COVID-19 in hospitals or care homes, as these spaces became associated with outbreaks. As a result, remote healthcare took on a new meaning, enabling at-risk patients to be appropriately cared for without fear of infection.

No connection, no protection

However, this technology can only alleviate the pressure on healthcare settings, giving freedom back to patients, when it works. You can have the newest technology in the room, but if it’s unusable, it’s no good.

Key to this, is connectivity. Without it, IoT technology would be unable to share data or voice connectivity, making it unusable within the healthcare setting. If a patient living at home relies on the equipment to stay healthy and ultimately alive, and a health worker relies on it to deliver critical care, you cannot afford for the technology to experience network outages.

To resolve this problem, many healthcare technologies are now installed with multi-network SIMs. If a network goes down, these SIMs immediately connect to another network in the area, preventing a sudden loss of connection and the potential life-threatening side effects of that.

2G and 3G sunsetting

Without a multi-network SIM you are not only vulnerable to network outages, but closures too.

Towards the end of last year, the Government announced that 2G and 3G networks will begin phasing out, and equipment that facilitates 4G and 5G will replace it.

Millions of pieces of mission-critical IoT equipment, such as the technologies used in healthcare, rely on a 2G and 3G connection to work. With many unaware of the change, or uncertain on how long they will be able to continue using their equipment, the capabilities in healthcare brought about by IoT technology, could be in jeopardy.

The future of healthcare

IoT healthcare technologies are giving patients freedoms like never before. You no longer have to be within a health care setting to receive the care you need, and this is life-changing for those able to keep their independence.

Coupled with this, IoT technology is reducing the pressures felt on healthcare workers, enabling the sector to provide high-value care to vulnerable people, in pressurised situations, such as COVID-19. But, without connectivity, none of this would be possible.

With multi-network SIMs installed in your healthcare technology, you can be sure that reliable connectivity is available to caregivers and patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This way, the health sector can continue innovating and transforming health outcomes, with confidence.

About the author

Paul Craig, is Head of IoT at OV, part of Manx Telecom. Housed on a small island, the company has big ambitions to innovate, test and launch products that change connectivity, globally.