IoT is key to telemedicine, but there are still barriers

Sheila Zabeu -

August 23, 2023

During the Covid-19 pandemic, tele-consultation was demystified, often serving as the only means of patient care. Today, so-called telemedicine systems, which use smart devices to monitor physical conditions, are gaining more ground, relying on Internet of Things (IoT) technologies as an important factor in transforming the way people with chronic illnesses and disabilities are being cared for, according to an article by Eseye. However, there are still challenges.

Devices and sensors adhered to the body can take measurements of vital signs, keeping continuous track, for example, of the condition of diabetics or hypertensive patients and checking that they have taken the indicated medication. Wearable motion detectors can also be used to capture slow movements in people. All this data can be kept on IoT platforms for doctors and healthcare professionals to access. The possibilities offered by IoT in the field of telemedicine are countless, so much so that the value of this market, referred to by some as IoT in Healthcare (IoHT), is expected to grow from $128 billion in 2023 to $289 billion in 2028.

As the main benefits provided by IoT initiatives, healthcare and medical device organisations cite entry into new markets (35%), cost reduction (29%), profit growth (25%) and increased revenue (24%), according to the Eseye survey. In addition, 79 per cent of respondents said that IoT was a priority and 97 per cent intended to allocate a larger budget; however, they also said that their IoT projects were often unsuccessful – 84 per cent reported that they had not achieved the expected business results and benefits.

IoT in Healthcare Market

Barriers to the success of IoT in telemedicine

Hardware design is the main barrier to implementing IoT solutions for a large proportion (84 per cent) of those interviewed in a survey carried out by Kaleido Intelligence and sponsored by Eseye. Medical devices need to be light, discreet and robust, imposing limits on the design and making it difficult to adapt the equipment to the demands of telemedicine services.

Data privacy and security are also important, suggesting that devices aimed at telemedicine services should be designed to guarantee a high level of control over information, but without jeopardizing ease of use.

Another barrier can be connectivity, which is also of great importance for health services as it must transmit data securely and reliably. It must work immediately, automatically connecting to a mobile network without the need for complex configurations, anywhere in the world, whether by Wi-Fi or mobile phone. It must also be able to switch between networks seamlessly if the connection is lost or unstable.

Deploying devices was cited as a major challenge by the healthcare professionals interviewed (27 percent) by the Eseye survey. IoT projects are rarely simple, and large deployments usually involve numerous widely distributed devices. Various telecoms networks, support channels, quality of service (QoS) commitments and contractual clauses need to be integrated. For this reason, the study suggests that telemedicine service providers should look for connectivity partners that offer flexibility and manage relationships with several operators, with centralized pricing, contracts and invoicing. To give you an idea, 34 percent of respondents from the healthcare and medical device sectors have already faced major challenges around device integration, certification, and testing.

Examples of use

Everon offers integrated digital health and care solutions in the UK that use an intelligent telecare platform for various environments, with sensors installed in homes, a camera and GPS equipment that track behaviour and vital signs. For their solution to work perfectly, they needed a partner to guarantee flexible cellular connectivity, with roaming capabilities between networks to ensure that all users of the service remained connected, wherever they were.

Biofourmis, meanwhile, has developed a solution for monitoring patients using an IoT-connected device that fits on the upper arm to measure vital signs and biomarkers. An app on the mobile phone collects the data from the sensors and sends it via the cloud to the Biofourmis platform, accessible by doctors.

As the use of Bluetooth to connect the device to the application sometimes faced ‘blind spots’, Biofourmis decided to adopt mobile phone connectivity in its solution. Today, it can connect to more than 700 cellular networks around the world, giving the solution the ability to automatically switch networks if the connection runs into problems.