How IoT Is Accelerating Innovation for Home Health Devices

September 30, 2020 - 9 minutes read

At-home patient care has made great strides in the past decade, with the advancement of technology in IV infusion pumps, CPAP machines, and asthma inhalers. Unfortunately, because patients often misuse or underuse their at-home medical devices, providers often see poorer outcomes for their patients when compared to those who regularly use their home-based medical devices.

Tracking these outcomes and patient home situations are difficult for a variety of reasons: lack of knowledge of how devices are being used, how often and how exactly they’re used for off-label purposes, how much they malfunction, how often and how they are misused, and how effective they are when used properly and as intended. But by adding the Internet of Things (IoT) into the mix, medical applications can track usage, monitor devices, and analyze the output to provide clinicians, insurers, researchers, regulators, and device manufacturers realistic data. This data can be used to measure outcomes and optimize the next generation of medical devices.

Staying Healthy at Home

Before the pandemic, non-clinical settings like the workplace or home were growing in popularity for medical devices developed and meant for use in a medical setting. But with the current state of things, at-home medical devices are more important than ever to ensure patients stay safe and at home. At-home care is more convenient, easier on the wallet, and eases anxiety for the patient. It also helps patients avoid exposure to other illnesses at the doctor’s office or at the hospital.

Experts say IoT should be incorporated into any medical device that could be used in a non-clinical setting. IoT technology generates real-time data all day and night, and it can notify a provider if the patient is misusing or underusing their medical machine. It also can detect malfunctions, inefficiencies, and maintenance problems before the machine breaks down and leaves the patient without a device.

Infusion Pumps for IV

There are public IV bars where you can go for an IV boost if you’re feeling down or exhausted from physical exertion. These pumps are being sent home more often with patients for antibiotic delivery, hydration, parenteral (meaning outside of the mouth and digestive tract) nutrition, and post-operative pain management. When you go to a public IV bar, you’ll be injected by a registered or certified nurse.

Infusion pumps are complex to use, and each model from every manufacturer has different controls and prompts to learn. As a result, patients can accidentally mess up the dosage or insert the wrong IV bag or medication if they’re not paying attention and taking multiple medications. With IoT, we can keep track of dosage, inventory, and monitor the time of day usage, temperature, heart rate, and the patient’s qualitative condition to help patients avoid these errors. IoT applications can also alert the patient’s medical provider if there are any serious predicted problems as well as speak directly to the patient to help them learn how to better interact with their infusion pump.

CPAP Machines

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines are becoming increasingly popular for home treatment. These machines help patients with obstructive sleep apnea, which increases blood pressure, causes atrial fibrillation, and escalates the effects of heart disease. For patients who first get a CPAP machine at their home, there is initial discomfort as well as a significant learning curve. Additionally, patients don’t see immediate benefits to using the machine because it takes time for the effects to become apparent.

As a result, patients find it difficult to adhere to their PAP therapy, and less than 50% of patients use their CPAP machine for over four hours a night. This machine delivers the best therapy for sleep apnea, but it’s so uncomfortable to use that patients would rather take the risk of causing other health issues than keep it on all night.¬†Insurance companies have become circumspect about buying expensive CPAP machines for patients and have started renting machines with monitoring installed to patients instead. If the patient wants to keep the machine long-term, they can eventually buy the machine from the insurance company.

With IoT technology, physicians can monitor their patients and analyze data about underuse of the machine. This can help the provider start a frank conversation with the patient geared towards improving the patient’s experience with the CPAP machine. Because insurance companies often try to get out of paying for replacement supplies like tubing, filters, and masks for patients, IoT technology can help the patient make a stronger case for their consistent usage of the machine. Unfortunately, many patients find the monitoring and rent-to-buy business model intrusive and inappropriate.

Inhalers for Asthma

For patients with asthma and breathing problems living in wildfire-prone areas like Los Angeles or polluted areas like New Delhi, living life “normally” can be extremely difficult for half of the year. Because these patients often cannot go outside without triggering an attack or episode, it’s imperative that the patient maintains their wellness from the comfort of their own home. But metered-dose inhalers (MDI) are frequently misused by patients, leading to uncontrolled asthma that comes with life-threatening risk. When this irreversible event occurs, the patient’s provider will often increase their MDI dosage or prescribe a more powerful medication.

When a patient is experiencing a breathing episode, they face difficulty in correctly administering their MDI because it requires hand-lung coordination, proper inhalation, and physical dexterity. But if you’ve ever used an inhaler, you know that there is no feedback to show that you administered the inhaler correctly or effectively. You have to wait a minute or so to see if breathing got easier for you. As a result, it’s easy to forget a step or become overwhelmed by the fear that you’re unable to breathe correctly.

The most common trend over time for the patient is to underuse the MDI, which requires excess use of rescue medication and increases the risk of a serious or life-threatening episode. Providers cannot go off of the patient’s recall memory about how well they used their MDI; it’s been shown that patients tend to misremember how well they administered their MDI medication. But new MDIs provide some hope: they can measure and monitor how much of the medication is reaching the patient’s lungs, how the device is being used, and under what circumstances the patient needed their MDI. With this data available, the patient’s provider can tailor their training, device selection, and messaging to the specific patient’s needs. The provider can even make changes to what device they prescribe for future patients.

Keeping up with Therapy at Home

Because the very nature of IoT is to generate data in real-time without any sort of break from monitoring machines, the data should help patients and providers become more communicative, more empathetic, and more understanding. No patient wants to end up in the emergency room for underusing their medication, and IoT can help patients avoid the risk of becoming hospitalized by creating a more transparent patient experience and by alerting providers sooner.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,