The next time you hear a beep, it might not be the alarm, but rather, your heart telling you that it’s time for a visit to the doctor. Or it may even mean that your loved one has missed a medicine dose. Indeed, healthcare is getting smarter by the day, with medical devices and applications coming together to ensure a smooth and seamless experience for patients and medical practitioners. To underscore this, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has stepped in, making healthcare accessible and effortlessly connecting patients with practitioners and caregivers.
Today, the IoMT market is huge, comprising wearables and medical monitors to be used on the body at home, in hospitals, at community clinics, or even for tele-health purposes. These include activity trackers, bands, wristbands, sports watches, and smart garments; all designed to help consumers keep track of their health, fitness and overall wellbeing.
Over the years, IoMT has grown from strength to strength, and today, it stands poised for greater and more significant growth. In fact, a report by Allied Market Research predicts that by 2021, the gobal IoT healthcare market will reach $136.8 billion worldwide.Frost and Sullivan estimates that as many as 4.5 billion IoMT devices existed in 2015, accounting for 30.3% of all IoT devices globally and that this number is expected to grow to 20-30 billion IoMT devices by 2020.
Those were the global statistics. As far as the Middle East is concerned, it has been no less dynamic in adopting IoMT into its healthcare agenda. A research conducted by Mena Research Partners (MRP) has said that UAE’s healthcare sector will witness a structural shift in the next five years, with investments up to over 28 million USD 2021. In fact, the UAE accounts for 26% of the total healthcare expenditure by the GCC governments.
IoMT: A game changer
There is little doubt that IoMT is huge, but what exactly are its benefits? To begin with, it is expected to save the global healthcare industry substantial amounts of money. But where IoMT offers the greatest advantage is in that fact that it can interpret data for doctors and health care practitioners, to help them identify issues and intervene before they turn critical or life-threatening.
So, what enabled this dramatic growth of the IoMT market? Firstly, most mobile devices are enabled with technology, which allow them to communicate with IT systems seamlessly. Then again, the rising rate of chronic diseases and the demand for better treatment options and lower costs have spurred the need to innovate and harness technology for maximum benefit. High speed internet access and favourable regulations also added to the momentum of IoTM adoption.
Chris Weigand, CEO and Co-Founder of Jibestream, a data-driven indoor mapping and intelligence platform, says “IoMT enables hospitals to use real-time location systems including queue management, asset and status tracking for wheelchairs and critical medical equipment, and proximity and geofence-based messaging to patients and staff.”
Healthcare experts say there is another bigger factor that IoTM will strive to address: The growing population of elderly people. In fact, a United Nations Report suggest that by 2050, the number of older people is expected to double and become 1.2 billion. This, in turn, means that health spending will increase, posing a huge burden for healthcare. IoMT becomes a boon here, to develop products and services for geriatric health care with specific benefits that help the control their health as well as routine habits, reminding them about their medicine and checkup timings, while keeping them connected with their doctors and caregivers.
Dr. Rami Sukhon, Family Medicine Specialist at Al Zahra Hospital says: ” Due to the rise in healthcare expenditure associated with the increase in life expectancy, the elderly are at a disadvantage as they are more likely to be subjected to larger healthcare expenses compared to younger patients as it is estimated that health expenditure may more than double between the ages of 70 and 90. Another problem for the elderly is the fact that, in some cases, they may not have someone supporting them during visits to the hospitals/clinics; thus, restricting their visits and reducing times where useful data can be collected.”
“Some of the IoMT devices used for the elderly include Vital-Tracking Wearables, Medication Adherence Tools, Virtual Home Assistants (Robots) and Portable Diagnostics Devices,” Dr Rami added.
Are there concerns we should address?
What should not be forgotten in the midst of all this is that there are several concerns surrounding IoTM. The first is the breach of privacy and easy access of patient data. Since IoMT is still growing, the security of all of the data being transmitted back and forth is a huge worry. Although organizations are doing their best to encrypt data and make it tamper-proof, the uncertainty prevailing over this ‘virtual’ method is massive, and at present, enough to make people think twice before investing in it.
The second is the over-reliance on technology. Healthcare practitioners in the region say there is still a major percentage of the population worrying about data accuracy and how correct technology is. There is also a huge concern about robots and computers overtaking human beings. So yes, IoMT is not without its disadvantages.
Another major worry is the possible lack of available memory to store the colossal amounts of data, as well as difficulties with regular updates brought on by a lack of comprehensive, integrated software and hardware to manage these. Not to mention, the cost of setting up the required infrastructure.
To sum up, IoMT has made its mark and is here to stay. But much needs to be done before it can be fully embraced by the healthcare sector, and this needs a major technological overhaul.