Discovering Diagnostic Potential of Healthcare IoT

7 min.

As an effect of increasing consciousness and engagement of consumers in their wellbeing, the demand for medical software development and especially for health monitoring technologies keeps growing, with a projected rise at CAGR of 30 percent by the year 2023, according to OBRC’s research.

Reaching a certain point of self-awareness, people strive to decipher their body data without a healthcare specialist’s commentary, which is why the Internet of Things in healthcare gains momentum.

Yet, while it may seem like healthcare IoT spins around fitness trackers, pedometers and sleep monitors, there is a whole wide world outside this orbit. Various healthcare ecosystem players come up with innovative approaches and applications to vitality tracking sensors, both inside and outside clinical settings.

These innovations bear the promise of helping healthcare organizations in reaching out to more precise diagnostics and care, cutting on costs and bringing visibility to the processes. Providers are excited to jump on this bandwagon, according to Aruba’s 2017 research.  It states that 87 percent of healthcare organizations will adopt Internet of Things technologies by 2019, and 76 percent believe it will transform the industry.

Healthcare IoT in Diagnostics

As stated in Aruba’s research, there are three main applications of IoT in healthcare:

  • Monitoring and maintenance
  • Energy tracking
  • Imaging

There are devices and medical software solutions that facilitate diagnostics on their own or in combination with technologies in Big Data, AI and robotics in each of these clusters. Here are the most interesting examples of such IoT devices.

Diagnostic IoT: Case Studies

Tracking cardiac activity

Many medical IoT visionaries aspire to improve cardiac activity tracking for research and clinical purposes.

MC10 came up with the BioStampRC®, a flexible body-worn sensor, enabling 6 degrees of freedom inertial sensing with 3-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, gathering ECG and EMG data. The sensor can be placed on various body parts, including chest, thigh, forearm, sacrum and more. With no wires, cords or additional electrodes, this device doesn’t restrain subject’s movements, allowing to gather objective data. Moreover, the subject can travel from lab to home freely, generating data through rest and activity in the habitual environment.

The iRhythm company, in turn, dedicated their device to preventing atrial fibrillation via timely arrhythmia monitoring and diagnosis.

iRhythm’s Zio XT is a long-term continuous cardiac monitoring patch that is designed to gather patient’s data for 3 to 14 days in a row, and uses machine learning to understand particular patient’s health picture. The device got the highest yield to lowest cost result compared to holters, event recorders and mobile cardiac telemetry devices in a study held by Decision Drivers Analytics.

Zio XT gathers the representative data and grasps abnormal heartbeats in casual circumstances, allowing patients to continue their regular lives while wearing the patch with no additional leads or electrodes to it. Apart from that, post-monitoring data comes as generated reports that can be integrated with the EHR, which is a major incentive for providers to adopt the device in a clinical setting.

Winning diabetes management

The key to a stable health status in diabetic patients is continuous blood glucose monitoring. While patients with Type 1 diabetes can gain higher control of their wellbeing, activity and work performance, patients with diabetes mellitus win more time without additional medications. In case of Type 2 diabetes, the better patients balance their glucose levels, the longer they can compensate the condition without taking insulin.

Eversense CGM System is a huge leap towards a better quality of life in patients with diabetes. Instead of weekly stomach pricking in common CGM systems, Eversense is implanted in the upper arm for 90 days. The implant is complemented with a data-receiving smart patch. It calculates the current glucose value and defines whether the blood glucose levels are expected to exceed the pre-set higher and lower benchmarks. The patch will alert patients prior to hyper or hypoglycemia by vibrating. All collected data is automatically sent to the specialized mobile app every 5 minutes, generating highly detailed blood glucose trends.  

Still being in development (with the beta launch planned for summer 2018), Sano promises to become the first non-invasive blood glucose tracker in the form of an adhesive patch. Through a specialized patient app, Sano should give patients the insight into their current blood glucose values. It will also define overtime trends to help providers identify the patterns and treat diabetes in a personalized way, introducing needed changes into patients’ diets and exercise routines.

Achieving portable eye diagnostics

One of the meaningful changes that IoT introduces in healthcare is care accessibility. It is highly important to allow patients in rural areas get high-quality and timely assessment, and EyeNetra addressed this need by creating a mobile solution for ophthalmology. This solution comprises three devices - NETRA, Netrometer and Netropter, which are an auto-refractor, a lensometer and a phoropter respectively.

NETRA combines patient’s subjective input with the computational power of a smartphone to diagnose the patient with nearsightedness, farsightedness, and the axis of astigmatism, as well as to measure pupillary distance and outputs prescription recommendations. Netrometer allows defining the refraction of lenses in seconds, including single vision, bifocal and progressive lenses. Last but not least, Netropter is a refinement tool to validate the most suitable vision correction option for a specific patient.

Together, this trio makes eye diagnostics smarter, easier and way more mobile, allowing optometrists to travel wherever their patients need them.

Revolutionizing in-home diagnostics

In most cases, patients would rather be anywhere else instead of sitting in the clinic and waiting for their next appointment. Taking tests is even more frustrating, especially when you’re not really sure you need them. But what if you could take tests in the comfort of your own home and even prior to scheduling an appointment? Cue puts control in patients’ hands by allowing them to monitor inflammation, influenza, vitamin D levels, testosterone level and LH level to define peak fertility. This self-diagnostic device consists of a dedicated app, a lab-in-a-box device with five cartridge types and sampling sticks.

All that a Cue user needs to do is collect a sample and insert it into the chosen cartridge. A few minutes later, the app will receive test results and offer insights in one of five health domains mentioned above.

Moreover, the system provides a user with a set of prompts related to the test results: nutrition tips for fertility support and best sports performance, recommendations to boost vitamin D levels with short walks in the sunniest daytime as well as advice for inflammation management, and more. 

Monitoring medication adherence

Poor medication adherence remains one of the roadblocks on the way to improving health outcomes in patients with chronic conditions and mental health disorders. Due to various reasons, patients can skip a pill or a few, and providers won’t be able to find this out or intervene.

To assist healthcare organizations in monitoring medication adherence, Proteus created Proteus Discover. Ingestible sensors are at the core of this solution, complemented with a wearable sensor patch, a mobile app and a provider portal. 

To start the tracking process, a patient takes the needed medication with the sensor made of copper, magnesium and silicon – the human body-friendly elements. The pill then disintegrates in the stomach, leaving the sensor intact. It gets activated by gastric fluids and starts emitting the signal to the patch on a patient’s body.

The patch recognizes the signal and validates that the pill was taken, visualizing it on the app. The other role of the patch is to measure patient’s rest, activity, steps and heart rate to identify patterns and correlations and create the patient’s fuller health picture. This data gets shared with providers via a dedicated portal, and the sensor then leaves the patient’s body in a most natural way.

Enabling contact-free fertility predictions

While there are hundreds of cycle-tracking mobile applications that claim to predict ovulation and fertility windows, some women need a more advanced approach to family planning. This is where EarlySense’s Percept can come in handy.

It seems like it’s a wicked Jedi device that promises to detect relevant ovulation dates based on patterns derived from the changes in user’s body vitals in a contact-free manner.

Percept is a sensor that should be put under a mattress, where it identifies three types of motions while the user sleeps: general body motions, breathing and heartbeats. The original algorithm then processes this data, differentiating signals and defining unique ovulation-related patterns. These patterns allow Percept to pinpoint next period and ovulation dates as well as a 6-day fertility window.

Due to machine learning, the algorithm gets smarter over time and improves prediction accuracy from cycle to cycle.

The Diagnostic IoT Area is Expanding, But There’s a Catch

Despite a wider adoption of IoT in healthcare, there are multiple challenges along the way.  With the array of possibilities that the Internet of Healthcare Things, Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) or, as others call it, the medical Internet of Things (mIoT) will open up in a decade or two, we shouldn’t expect a quick clinical adoption yet.

Many questions will inevitably arise:

  • How will IoT devices defend PHI and ensure HIPAA compliance?
  • How will the diagnostic data be synchronized with the EHR?
  • If the data won’t get to EHR systems directly, where should it be stored for the providers to access it? 
  • Will some of these devices get insurance coverage?
  • How about diagnostic IoT reimbursement?

While these questions shouldn’t hinder innovations, vendors need to think through their strategy if they want to get widespread clinical application. With providers’ support, the industry will move faster to embed wearables, patches, implants and ingestible sensors up to the point where each patient will be able to get access to painless, continuous and non-invasive diagnostic solutions.