Why IoT’s Crucial for Medical Connectivity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

September 7, 2020 - 8 minutes read

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the world in unprecedented ways: social distancing, mandatory mask rules, and a shift to remote work name just a few. Technological innovation is accelerating faster too as a result. Tools like the cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) are swiftly improving many fields that were otherwise adopting new technologies at a snail’s pace before the pandemic. In fact, IoT applications are overhauling large parts of the healthcare industry.

These changes aren’t just part of a trend, however; they’re expected to bring patients benefits for a lifetime, and they have the potential to significantly change how we interact with medical systems. One major upgrade IoT has brought to healthcare is medical connectivity, facilitating a stable and seamless link between devices, networks, and patients.

The importance of medical connectivity

IoT-enhanced healthcare companies are using the coronavirus as fuel to improve their products and solutions. With medical connectivity, we can possibly slow down the virus spread. But it depends on medical labs developing vaccines, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and health insurance organizations working together closely and swiftly to save lives. Connecting the entire healthcare ecosystem also has a financial benefit: It carries the taxpayer’s dollar further by reducing the amount of back-and-forth between all of the system’s components.

Medical connectivity is also popularizing telehealth for patients; they can get in touch with their doctor on a secure platform without leaving their home, obtain test results remotely, and even view their electronic medical records with attached scan images and test results. This is all possible because of enhanced cloud storage, fast transfer of massive amounts of data, and secure communication platforms. Here are some other ways IoT is improving medical connectivity and patient outcomes through the development of novel medical applications.

Quarantine tracking

In medical facilities where patients are in close quarters, interactive medicine can help with social distancing through constant monitoring. For the public, sustaining quarantine measures and self-isolation is important to reduce the risk of infection and slow the spread in the general population. IoT is helping officials track people who are infected, showing symptoms, or have tested positive with connected drone monitoring and thermal heat sensors and scanners.

Other technologies used to monitor populations wirelessly are cellular positioning systems and GPS-enabled devices. The IoT system then sends any data generated from the scans to the appropriate local government or healthcare sector.

Automation in healthcare

The 5G rollout was imminent before the pandemic started, and the coronavirus has only catalyzed innovation with this technology. This is great news particularly for medical connectivity and healthcare automation. 5G-enabled medical robots can work in instant real-time, scanning temperatures, disinfecting hospital rooms, and delivering drugs as soon as the command is given. By employing robots instead of humans for these tasks, we can protect more humans from being exposed to the virus. Robots also don’t need personal protective equipment, saving more for doctors and nursing staff.

In China, hospitals were able to use 5G-enabled healthcare automation with a 5G+ remote consultation arrangement for medical connectivity across multiple hospitals. It allowed medical personnel to consult patients in other hospitals remotely while opening the door for doctors across different hospitals to network and share findings and new ideas.

AI-enabled robots and chatbots

When COVID-19 cases grew across the world, healthcare systems were inundated with phone calls from patients asking about symptoms and strategies to reduce exposure to the virus. It was overwhelming for staff to take care of everyone’s queries in a reasonable amount of time. Boston-based Partner Healthcare’s hotline topped an average delay time of up to 30 minutes, which caused more panic and distress for patients waiting on the other line.

Healthcare startups saw an opportunity to create AI-enabled chatbots for the websites and mobile apps of organizations like Partner Healthcare. These chatbots helped patients with their questions about the coronavirus, symptoms, and treatment options. The chatbots first asked a series of pre-set questions to screen concerned patients and then provided personalized recommendations based on the severity of the patient’s medical history.

In Wuhan, smart hospitals were set up by the government to help medical providers by utilizing AI-enabled robots in monitoring heart rate, scanning body temperatures of patients, and disinfecting the hospitals. These facilities were a great example of AIoT, which is IoT enhanced by AI, and the robots performed incredibly well in their assigned tasks.

Medical classrooms

Medical school students are dealing with uncertainty in returning to school for hands-on training. As a result, medical schools are creating rotating schedules wherein third- and fourth-year students take turns in remote learning and in-person practice. Some options include step-by-step videos that teach smaller tasks like inserting an IV and virtual case reviews with patients’ medical history.

Anatomy is one class that’s difficult to learn in-person, let alone remotely. But new sophisticated 3D software is replacing dissection at many medical schools this year. At other schools, instructors are wearing body cameras while taking students through a dissection. At home, students can zoom in on any part of the dissection video and even view it from different angles, giving them more quality learning time with the cadaver.

Medical school is an immersive and interactive experience that hones students’ bedside manner and personability, but with the pandemic still in full-swing, school administrations are trying their best to keep classes engaging and effective while prioritizing students’ safety and health.

A more connected future to look forward to

America’s 5G download speeds are atrocious compared to countries across the world. According to an August 2020 report by Opensignal, the U.S. has the lowest download speeds at an average of 50.9 Mbps, while Saudi Arabia and South Korea are reaching 414.2 Mbps and 312.7 Mbps, respectively. We’ve got no real excuse for this. But the good news is that America’s 5G progress is spreading quickly over the entire nation. Hopefully, as infrastructure is built out more, our speeds will receive a nice boost.

With improved 5G connectivity and speeds, we will see IoT-enabled medical connectivity stabilize and expand to reach more patients, at-risk areas, and infected communities. It turns out that when we improve device, sensor, and medical connectivity, we improve how humans connect with each other — and that, in turn, can make all the difference in our healthcare experiences and outcomes.

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