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IoT in Healthcare: How Future Tech Is Helping to Fight COVID-19

August 3, 2020 • Shannon Flynn

The COVID-19 crisis has pushed hospitals to their limits as surges in patient numbers result in shortages of critical equipment and beds. Healthcare staff, as a result, look for every advantage possible to care for patients while avoiding contracting the disease.

One new technology making a considerable difference is the internet of things (IoT) — smart devices that send and receive information over the internet. This innovation, which allows professionals to collect health data and interact with patients remotely, has been a significant boon for healthcare workers.

Here’s how IoT in healthcare is helping to fight COVID-19.

Remote Patient Monitoring

One of the most critical features IoT devices can provide is remote communication and data tracking. With the right gadgets, hospital staff can check in on patients sick with COVID-19 from afar — without potentially exposing doctors or nurses to the virus.

For example, in the Circolo hospital in northern Italy, one of the European nations hit hardest by the coronavirus, hospital staff started using internet-connected robots, each equipped with a camera, screen, microphone and medical monitoring equipment. These bots took patient vitals, such as blood pressure and oxygen saturation, and allowed communication with doctors or relatives.

Right now, some hospitals are facing an extreme shortage of beds. Plus, for patients who aren’t sick with COVID-19, the hospital isn’t the safest place to stay. IoT devices can help doctors keep tabs on patient health when they’re not in the same location, limiting infection rates.

Advanced Asset Tracking for Hospitals

As case numbers rise, many hospitals struggle to track and manage essential hospital assets — like ventilators, masks, gowns, testing kits and beds. A simple internet-connected tracking system can tell the hospital staff how many assets are available and how many are in use.

Longer wait times for beds often lead to worse health outcomes for patients. An asset tracking system can notify administrative staff the second a bed is available, allowing them to minimize the time sick patients spend waiting.

If a doctor or nurse needs a piece of mobile equipment, like a ventilator or patient monitor, they can determine its availability and exact location immediately. The result is less time searching the premises and improved care.

Collecting Data on COVID-19’s Spread

IoT devices may also be valuable in tracking how the virus spreads. Smart thermometer manufacturer Kinsa made headlines in April when it put user temperature data up for public access on their website. They monitored instances of atypical illness by plotting the number of users with elevated body temperatures — a common symptom of COVID-19 — on a county-by-county map. 

Kinsa hopes that the aggregated health data can help individuals see how the coronavirus is impacting their area and potentially make better decisions about their care. According to Robyn Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology at New York University, many health experts have been following the data. Because it’s available in real time, this information allows people to see changes in the virus’s spread well in advance of official reports.

Fighting COVID-19 With the Internet of Things

We are now several months into the COVID-19 crisis. While some states, encouraged by a slow-down in new cases, are beginning to reopen their economies, the outbreak will likely continue well into the future. 

Hospitals will remain under serious pressure during this time. IoT healthcare devices — which allow hospitals to keep tabs on patient health and essential equipment — will remain a valuable asset for facilities for the foreseeable future. They may also become a standard part of professional care in the future.

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