How the IoT Can Improve Efficiency in Health Care Facilities

By Kayla Matthews, HealthIT writer and technology enthusiast, Tech Blog
Twitter: @ProductiBytes

The connected devices comprising the Internet of Things (IoT) span industries ranging from transportation to marketing. Many applications streamline operations and change the ways people get things done.

The opportunities in IoT health care applications are abundant, too, for assisting both providers and patients. Here are five ways IoT facilities improved efficiency in the health sector.

  1. Enabling Patient-Friendly Appointment Booking
    Several health systems let patients book urgent care appointments via their smart speakers. For example, people under the Providence St. Joseph Health umbrella can say phrases to schedule or cancel visits, plus find the facilities closest to their homes. The functionality currently applies to 22 locations in the state of Washington.This option improves efficiency by freeing up time for personnel who would ordinarily be on the phone taking appointment requests. It also reduces the chances of people intending to call an office to cancel an appointment and forgetting to do it.
  2. Assisting Doctors With Symptom Management
    The IoT has also furthered the creation of numerous health apps that people can access on their smartphones or by using specialized health wearables. A Gallup poll published in December 2019 found that more than one in four U.S. adults use either a mobile health app or a fitness tracker. Besides helping users keep tabs on their well-being, the data from those apps and gadgets can help doctors track chronic symptoms.Research published in 2016 by Accenture revealed that 78% of consumers were willing to use, or did use, wearable technology to track their vital signs or lifestyles. Moreover, 90% of respondents would share their health-related wearable or app data with a doctor, and 40% had already done so.Such health care IoT data can promote efficiency by giving physicians a more accurate picture of how a person’s state changes, thereby saving time at any in-person appointments. Providers could also deal with some things remotely. If the data shows a medication change causes an elevated heart rate, a doctor may adjust the dosage without making the patient come into the office.
  3. Improving Location-Based Asset Tracking
    Health care facilities have a wide assortment of expensive, life-saving equipment. If a provider does not know where a necessary item is in a hospital, or whether it is even available to use, they waste precious time. Some hospital decision-makers have no choice but to rent equipment to compensate for the problem.IoT health care solutions help by creating a system whereby each item has a tracking mechanism that updates in real-time. Some also extend to people, such as if they recognize an individual’s employee ID badge or a patient wristband.The returns on investment for these options are often substantial. For example, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center reported savings of $2 million per year after implementing the technology.
  4. Reducing Equipment Breakdowns
    Similarly to how missing equipment compromises efficiency in the health care sector, so too can machinery that breaks down unexpectedly. For example, if a facility only has one or two highly specialized machines in its inventory that people use frequently, a parts failure or the need to schedule a service call could cause weeks-long backups.Manufacturers often use IoT sensors for predictive maintenance concerning their equipment. Opportunities exist to do the same with IoT health care technology. According to a research paper on the topic published in 2020, it could bring up to 25% in annual cost savings. The authors also suggest using machine learning to determine which characteristics constitute a well-functioning or faulty piece of equipment.They explained the process of using IoT sensors to monitor vibrations, then receiving early warnings of impending malfunctions. Those let people take action to prevent total breakdowns by becoming more aware of when things are amiss with the most used, critical machines.
  5. Reminding People to Collectively Stop the Spread of Infection
    Some health care providers are so concerned with trying to boost the efficiency and accuracy of patient care that they forget to wash their hands as often as they should. If that happens, the rate of hospital-acquired infections (HAI) can go up, putting everyone in a facility at risk.However, a company called Clean Hands — Safe Hands wants to change that with its health care IoT-enabled hand-washing stations. They connect to a provider’s badge and detect if that person does not cleanse their hands before entering or leaving a room. When necessary, people hear a gentle voice coming from the station that reminds them to do it before going any further.Data from 10 hospitals that used the technology showed that it reduced the total HAIs by 372, translating to 39 lives saved. These reminders play an essential part in stopping infections, plus people can wash their hands when the supplies for doing so are right in front of them. The alternative is forgetting to do it and having to backtrack, which wastes time.

Fantastic Potential for IoT Health Care
These examples show that people have plenty of reasons to pay attention to health care applications for the IoT. More possibilities will undoubtedly emerge, too, especially as technology becomes more specialized and widely used in the medical industry.