The healthcare industry is continuing to embrace new technologies that optimize operations to support our valued medical professionals, in addition to technologies that improve patient outcomes and help save lives. According to market forecasts, the global demand for the Internet of Things (IoT) in the healthcare market will reach $534.3 billion by 2025. This projected growth highlights the pivotal role IoT devices will continue to play as they are used for a wide variety of applications, such as patient monitoring, operations management and beyond.
While IoT devices have a lot of potential for the healthcare industry, there are some downsides that have limited their feasibility for adoption at scale. Many of these connected solutions are battery-powered, requiring maintenance time to change the batteries on a regular basis. The time commitment to change all these batteries adds one more piece of stress to hardworking hospital employees, and the costs of buying new batteries – not to mention the labor costs – also adds up fast. For IoT devices to be more widely adopted across the healthcare industry, the maintenance of these devices needs to be minimal and the materials costs need to be reasonable as well. Many hospitals are also taking a closer look at sustainability practices, so the environmental concern of battery waste is also growing.
Over the past few years, a few cutting-edge technologies have emerged to solve the issues associated with batteries in IoT devices, ushering in new possibilities for the IoT in healthcare. Lowest power radio, on-demand wake-up and multisource controlled energy harvesting are a few key technologies that help significantly extend the battery life of wireless devices. Lowest power radio technology is designed to enable connected devices to operate with minimal power, maximizing battery life. On-demand wake-up technology allows devices to listen for incoming transmissions (such as sounds) while remaining in a very low power state. And controlled energy harvesting technology enables devices, such as battery-free beacons, to draw energy from movement, heat, the light in the room, or even radio frequency (RF) from other devices. When used with the latest Bluetooth standard, Bluetooth 5.0, these technologies can power forever battery life – where batteries do not need to be changed during the lifetime of a device – or these technologies can even replace the need for batteries in a device. Let’s explore a few healthcare applications that would benefit from these types of devices.
Using wearables for exposure notification systems
Exposure notification systems are being rolled out around the world to help stop the spread of COVID-19. These systems use Bluetooth to exchange anonymous identifiers with other smartphones that are less than six feet away. While smartphones are useful for the general public to take stay informed about their potential exposure to the virus, medical facilities will need purpose-built devices for their own exposure notification systems. These devices will likely be small wearables such as wrist bands or beacons that are easy to use, comfortable for all-day wear and cost-efficient to roll out.
Using custom exposure notification systems, medical facilities can set specific parameters based on the needs of their environment – for example, hospitals might want wearables to log a contact event when patients or employees come within 12 feet of each other, which is double the distance of current exposure notification systems. These wearables could also be used to track other types of valuable information, such as a person’s temperature, to help monitor for potential symptoms. We’ll see these wearables rolled out in a variety of healthcare settings including hospitals, medical offices and nursing homes.
Remote patient monitoring with wearables
Beyond exposure notification, wearables are also valuable for other types of noncritical patient monitoring – something that’s especially helpful as the healthcare industry faces staffing shortages. Wearable tags, badges, wrist bands and rings can allow nurses and doctors to keep tabs on a patient’s vitals without having to constantly check on them. These devices can provide insights on a variety of biometrics data, including blood pressure and heart rate.
Forever battery life devices and battery-free wearables can help healthcare professionals focus their limited time on the patients who need the most attention while still providing care to patients in less critical conditions. The “set it and forget it” mentality applies to these devices: with energy harvesting technologies and other low power enhancements, these devices can continue to track patients’ vitals without requiring battery changes, providing a low cost and reliable way to improve patient care.
Tracking machines and equipment with smart sensors
Tracking hospital assets like medical equipment and computers can be a tedious task. Some studies have found that an average hospital can only account for 60 percent of its assets. By outfitting machines with small tag-like beacons or sensors, hospitals can easily track thousands of assets at a time and ensure that every location has the equipment it needs. For example, hospital staff need to keep track of the number of defibrillators on each floor. Once a defibrillator is taken from its location, a sensor can keep track of its whereabouts, so medical staff doesn’t have to spend time searching for equipment in situations where every second counts. As hospitals across the country tackle the growing challenge of accounting for all their equipment, wirelessly connected battery-free devices make it easy to track medical assets in real-time for the benefit of hospital workers and patients alike.
Using smart beacons for on-site navigation
Navigating large hospitals and healthcare campuses can be a challenge for both patients and medical professionals. While someone might be able to find the building they are looking for using their favorite mapping application, a smartphone’s GPS is not very helpful indoors when you’re searching for a specific room. One solution is to place smart beacons around medical campuses and buildings, enabling patients and employees to use a smartphone app to more easily find their way around, both inside and outside. When hospitals are busy and staff is stretched thin, applications such as this offer one more way for medical staff to be as efficient as possible.
We look forward to seeing more medical applications integrate lowest power radio, on-demand wake-up and multisource controlled energy harvesting technologies to solve the maintenance, financial and environmental challenges of traditional battery-operated devices. Forever battery and battery-free IoT solutions have the potential to alleviate some of the smaller issues in the health care field so doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can focus on the top priority – saving lives and keeping people healthy.