What is the internet of medical things (IoMT) or healthcare IoT?
The internet of medical things (IoMT) is the collection of medical devices and applications that connect to healthcare information technology systems through online computer networks. Medical devices equipped with Wi-Fi enable the machine-to-machine communication that is the basis of IoMT.
Examples of IoMT include the following:
- Using remote patient monitoring (RPM) for people with chronic diseases and long-term conditions.
- Tracking patient medication orders.
- Tracking the location of patients admitted to hospitals.
- Collecting data from patients’ wearable mobile health devices.
- Connecting ambulances en route to medical facilities to healthcare professionals.
IoMT devices link to cloud platforms, where captured data is stored and analyzed. IoMT is also known as healthcare internet of things (IoT).
The practice of using IoMT devices to remotely monitor patients in their homes is also known as telemedicine. This kind of treatment spares patients from having to travel to a hospital or physician’s office whenever they have a medical question or change in their condition.
How does IoMT affect healthcare?
IoMT increases the amount of health data available to caregivers, the variety of sources it comes from and the speed at which it is collected, transmitted and analyzed. More transmitted data improves both patients’ and providers’ decision-making capabilities.
IoMT provides the devices and networks that enable telemedicine and virtual care. Remote healthcare capabilities became popular during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to limit the number of patients traveling to healthcare facilities and to alleviate the stress on overburdened hospitals and other medical facilities.
Telemedicine makes it easier for people living outside of cities in more remote areas to get access to medical care in general. It also makes it easier for people everywhere to get access to specialists who they may otherwise not be able to see.
Benefits of IoMT
As part of the broader telemedicine infrastructure, IoMT offers the following advantages:
- Patient monitoring systems. IoMT enables round-the-clock health monitoring of patients with chronic conditions. It also gives doctors better information about the patient’s living circumstances, which can influence care.
- Accessibility. IoMT gives patients more access to health services and education. Patients have more options for service and can access it when they need it through a telehealth application.
- Cost control. RPM and telehealth save some of the costs of having a patient visit a healthcare facility in person. Faster health data processing also saves providers’ time and money, enabling them to redirect resources to areas that most need their attention.
- Improved patient experience. IoMT enables the use of new technology that facilities patient self-service and minimizes the need for in-person visits. Consumer-grade wearables give patients access to data that they might traditionally have had to go to a doctor to get.
- Accuracy. IoMT provides more data, giving medical clinicians more accurate insights into the health conditions of patients. For example, an IoMT-enabled blood pressure monitor can provide several days of blood pressure and heart rate readings that yield a more accurate diagnosis than data from a single doctor’s visit.
- Logistics. IoMT devices are used to monitor the equipment in healthcare facilities and send alerts when maintenance and other issues arise. They are also used as trackers to follow patients and medication throughout medical facilities’ campuses, leading to fewer mix-ups and mistakes.
Challenges of IoMT
IoT technology in the healthcare industry and medical settings raises several issues:
- Implementation. Interoperability and device compliance with industry standards complicate implementation of IoMT infrastructure.
- Upfront costs. The initial implementation cost of IoMT technology can be high, and it might take time to get a positive return on investment.
- Security. Protected health information faces more security risks and security regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Transmitted medical data exposes providers to a range of cybersecurity threats, including data breaches and fraud. Attackers can use stolen credentials to obtain medical services or drugs. Providers face serious compliance penalties and fines in the event of a data breach.
- Data ownership. It’s not always clear who IoMT data belongs to when it is generated. The patient, software provider and other healthcare providers might generate or touch the data during its lifecycle. Depending on the context, the data rights for each party can be complex.
- Data classification. As technology evolves and IoMT collects a larger variety of data, what constitutes medical data might become harder to define. For example, emergent medical data is health information inferred by artificial intelligence (AI) applications from non-health-related data. AI technology can look at traces left by consumers and other data and turn it into medical data. Monitoring a user’s location is nonmedical information that can be used to track the spread of infectious disease.
- User experience. It can be a challenge to design medical devices and applications that are easy for patients to use. Poorly designed devices lead to limited or flawed data collection when patients remove the device or use it incorrectly.
Types of IoMT devices
There are many types of IoMT devices. They are often categorized based on their environment.
Devices are used in or placed around a patient’s home. For example, personal emergency response systems use devices in the home that alert a hospital when the patient experiences an emergency. RPM devices are used to monitor patients with chronic conditions in their homes.
These devices are also known as on-body IoMT. They are connected to a person’s body and record medical information about them. Wearable devices can be consumer- or medical-grade. For example, smartwatches are consumer-grade, on-body IoMT that records health data, such as a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. Consumer-grade smart devices can be used without medical supervision for wellness and health-metric tracking. Medical-grade, on-body IoMT is used with the supervision of a doctor. For example, a neuromodulation device that manipulates a patient’s nervous system to mitigate pain. Smart pills are a type of wearable IoMT; they are ingestible sensors that read information from inside the patient’s body.
Many consumer mobile devices that people carry around, such as cellphones, use near-field communication and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that enable devices to share information with other IT systems. For example, patients can control networked glucose monitors on their mobile phones, and medical personnel can access data from their organization’s network.
Also called community IoMT, these devices are dispersed throughout a geographic area. For example, point-of-care kiosks dispense medical supplies and connect patients with care providers. They give patients in remote areas without traditional medical facilities access to healthcare and healthcare systems.
Hospitals use internet connectivity to facilitate patient care. Examples include infusion pumps that connect to analytics dashboards and hospital beds rigged with sensors that measure patients’ vital signs. Hospitals also use IoMT devices for asset and inventory management. RFID tags placed on medical equipment and supplies send updates to hospital staff on the quantities they have in stock and where they are located. Similar devices are also used to track patients moving through facilities.
What is the difference between IoMT and IoT?
IoT refers to a network of devices that communicate autonomously over that network. They gather data using sensors and route it to other parts of the network without human intervention. Some examples of IoT devices are the following:
- Location and motion detectors on smartphones that communicate with surrounding devices.
- Smart thermostats that measure and regulate temperature in a building.
- Smart home devices, such as smart sensors and motion detection devices.
- Moisture sensors that farmers use to direct irrigation to crops in most need.
IoMT devices are a type of IoT technology that enables medical devices to communicate autonomously over a network. Patient data is collected and transmitted to healthcare providers via IoMT networks, with limited or no direction from the patient or medical professional.
What is the future of IoMT?
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of telehealth and related technology and practices, such as the use of IoMT devices. The number of connected medical devices is expected to continue growing.
As IoT technology advances, providers will integrate those upgrades into IoMT devices and networks. For example, sensor technology is expected to advance to provide more and better real-time data. At the same time, AI-enabled data analytics and machine learning will improve predictive healthcare.
IoMT-generated healthcare data will also enable more and better research and create opportunities for new treatments. IoMT devices have the potential to simplify medical management, decrease costs and improve data sharing and collaboration among healthcare organizations.
IoMT requires a strong data security infrastructure. Learn about the evolving security challenges to healthcare IoT and how institutions can protect patient data.