The lady with the internet connected lamp

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Rays of light from the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ can still be seen in modern healthcare today. As the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale’s efforts to lift healthcare standards across the world led to many best practices we see now. However, the healthcare industry still faces wave after wave of challenges that can only be overcome by innovating and evolving. As populations grow, and developments in medicine battle against increasingly complex afflictions, the challenges facing the clinics of 2018 are, in many ways, unrecognisable to those of Victorian Britain.

In today’s world, technology is of course a key component in providing the means to become a healthier and longer-living society.  This is not just hardware, as in robots, scanners and other machinery, but also software, data and intelligent sensors. These new connected technologies work in conjunction with one another, as one single ecosystem: the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).

The connectivity and intelligence built in to both sensors can provide a critical differentiator when it comes to life saving scenario. For example, say that a critical piece of equipment such as an MRI scanner has broken down and it needs fixing immediately. In many scenarios the obvious physical manifestations of a gradual malfunction can be subtle, so a complete physical breakdown can be the end of a lengthy degradation which has taken place mostly in silence. 

In the best-case scenario, the obvious physical fault or breakdown is reported, and the next available engineer is dispatched to fix the unit. The length of the fix could be hours, it could be days or weeks. All the while, diagnosis and patient care is delayed, and healthcare staff cannot continue their important work. Machine downtime is a risk too critical to ignore – early diagnostics of conditions such as breast cancer can mean the difference between life and death. Yet on average, an MRI machine which is monitored using manual checks can be down for up to 60 hours a year, according to market reports. 

It’s clear that such downtime can be the worst possible outcome for patients and are also a major issue for hospitals if facilities are unavailable for backlogs of patients. The costs of repairing untreated machine malfunctions increase significantly the longer they are allowed to develop in silence. 

Philips Healthcare is ensuring close to zero downtime by taking advantage of IoMT technology and SMS alerts on vital medical equipment such as MRI machines. This is done by intelligent sensors which detect anomalies which might point to a developing fault, and automatic SMS communications that alert engineers of impending faults. Engineers receive a text message whenever a machine exceeds one or more of its critical parameters, allowing them to quickly check the problem and carry out any necessary repair work overnight, or during off-peak hours, ensuring no downtime for the hospital or their patients. 

IoMT is chosen because it enables intelligent connectivity and automation, and SMS because it ensures a rapid response for mission critical alerts. 90% of SMS messages are opened within 3 minutes, and a typical open rate of 98% means that engineers can be made aware of potential faults in mere seconds of it being picked up by the machine’s sensors.

While some technology is focused on preventing situations that lead to poor experiences, healthcare institutions are also creating more positive experiences for patients and their families. Knowing what information needs to be provided to them, at what time, and in what way, enables patient related interactions to be more empathetic. 

A rather anxiety-inducing situation, waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery with little knowledge of how long they may be, is becoming a thing of the past. Developed in 1998 and used widely across many industries such as retail and manufacturing, the implementation of Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) is leading to a more helpful experience for people. For example, RTLS badges are given to patients which tracks their progress through a procedure, from pre-op to surgery and recovery. Families are updated either in the building via screens and other devices, or even remotely.

Mobility is also transforming the relationship between patient, hospital and healthcare provider. Health analytics from connected devices are keeping patients more engaged with their treatment, cutting down on time required for doctors and nurses to provide face to face care for many routing enquiries, so freeing up their time to look after those in need of more urgent care. Patients at home can now be provided with equipment to measure basic readings such as blood pressure, weight, blood glucose, and more, which is then entered and uploaded via mobile device for medical staff to see. Action can then be taken by medical staff in the form of a phone call, a text, or if required, a medical visit.

With connected wearables such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit becoming more popular, reliable and accessible, remote monitoring is set to become the new normal. Some patients have reduced mobility due to their condition or treatment, so benefit from new service models such as remote GPs, which allow them to have access to medical staff without having to travel. Securely accessing a patient’s medical data and tracking progress remotely means the process now has become much simpler, and the cost barrier for entry in certain countries has been drastically reduced. With the many varied styles of healthcare around the world, it’s important that it does remain accessible for those who need it.

As outlined previously, SMS is used in maintenance alerts for its ubiquity and almost guaranteed delivery. And this is no coincidence. We have reached a point in time when nearly 5 billion people have access to a mobile phone. With the IoMT, the ubiquitous global reach of SMS is being applied across the healthcare industry, from scheduling appointments and setting reminders, to relaying critical information sent from medical devices.

For a healthier society, the IoMT has an incredibly important role to play – improving patient satisfaction, freeing up staff time and resource to deal with patients more effectively, and ensuring that vital equipment remains up and running for when it’s needed. 

Florence Nightingale once said: “And what nursing has to do in either case, is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.” What she could never have predicted, in those Victorian times, is how technology is now helping nursing put patients in ‘the best condition.’ 

With the barrier for entry lowering as sensor costs become cheaper, and connected networks faster and more efficient with the rollout of 5G, the IoMT will help our generation and the generations after live longer, healthier lives.

Oisin Lunny, Chief Evangelist at OpenMarket

Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock