A wireless communications chip embedded in each device or “thing” is touted as the step that will create the Internet of Things (IOT). How can that affect healthcare and medicine? Can we have a Hospital Internet of Things?
While it would be fantastic to have stents, coils, implants, pellets et cetera with the capacity to sense and report, there is the issue of how would such devices affect the human body in the long term (the effects of electromagnetic energy). But there are other aspects of the IOT that healthcare and in particular the hospital, could use.
Imagine the little bracelet that each patient gets on registration to the ED, and if that bracelet could identify hospital sectors and communicate with an in-hospital patient tracking system. Such a system then wouldn’t have to rely on human updates (which are often delayed or omitted), and transport personnel would be able to easily locate the patient. Also, the swarm of agents (residents, attending physicians, consulting physicians, physical therapists, portable X-ray techs, etc) involved in the care of the patient could modify their rounds* so that they do not go to a ward only to find a patient missing because they’re in radiology, dialysis etc. And after some time, enough data might be generated to allow optimization of transport and subsequently other functions.
We could also have clever medication pumps that notify that the bag of infused medication is almost empty, at a pre-specified interval before the end, rather than having an alarm after the medication is actually over. This would help ensure uninterrupted administration, esp. in cases that continuous infusion is critical to achieve the desired effect (e.g. vasopressors) or pharmacokinetics (chemotherapy).
And the use cases extend to pretty much all other aspects of inpatient care, like vital signs monitoring, medication administration, blood sampling etc. Integration with an EHR that could serve also as a control system might help to cut down on waste and improve response times. The inpatient environment provides a good opportunity for such developments, which could then be transferred to the outpatient environment. There are challenges regarding security of information and function (data breaches and hacking) but the benefits would be very significant if implemented.
* Since most hospitals are labyrinths of interconnected buildings, elevators and stairwells, the problem of rounding route optimization has to be a 3D version of the travelling salesman problem.