Healthcare might seem to be an unlikely target application for the Internet of Things technology, but recent developments show small ways that big-data is going to make an impact on patient care moving into the future.
One example is the Aventura Hospital and Medical Center in Aventura, Fla., which has started tracking patients using a small, plastic wristband the size of a digital watch. The bands contain a radio ID (RFID) and real-time-location (RTLS) tags that feed information to a General Electric software system called AgileTrac which pools patient and equipment data, and connects patients to doctors and machines using a hospital-sized Industrial Internet.
Aventura calculated that AgileTrac cut more than 3,000 hours in discharge time at the 400-bed hospital over nine months and dramatically improved handling of patients in Aventura's emergency room. "We are doing much better now than a year ago," said Karen Bibbo, chief nursing officer at Aventura's parent, HCA East Florida, in a press release. She said that "not having AgileTrac would be like going from a computer back to the paper system."
A second example is a hospital system that uses communications technology to fight hospital infections. Most of us know that proper hand washing helps prevent hospital-acquired infections. But the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention data shows that hand washing by providers only occurs 55 percent of the time. But now by wearing badges that count each room entry and exit, along with the use of soap or sanitizer dispensers, tracking hand washing is automated and doesn't interfere with existing hospital processes.
A large part of the impact of IoT technology will be where healthcare data exists in a lot of fragmented areas, including equipment, electronic medical records, along with the handling of patient data, tracking admissions, and managing best-practices. It also shows how connecting and funneling data can help make better-informed decisions.
Although it is not commonly recognized, healthcare delivery also involves rotating machinery. One example is computed tomography (CT) scanners, which are used to visualize internal structures of the body. GE says that globally there are approximately 52,000 CT scanners used for diagnostic and treatment evaluation across a wide spectrum of applications including cardiac, angiography, brain, chest, abdomen, and orthopedic. These machines are only a small sample of the millions of machines and critical systems that could be monitored, modeled, and remotely controlled and automated.
From an automation and control perspective, the "control loops" required to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare may seem trivial. But some of the primary target markets for IoT technology are precisely areas with complex processes that are difficult to manage, including energy management, transportation, power production, and oil and gas delivery.
It's easy to assume that the Internet of Things always refers to vast networks with sophisticated sensors and communication. And at some point in the future, I'm sure we'll see complex networks of devices that are better managed using this technology. But for now, I'm certain we'll continue to see much simpler technology that actually delivers large benefits using sensors, intelligent communications, and software.