While the Internet has historically been an important communication channel for traditional computing devices such as PCs, tablets and smartphones, the much hyped concept of ‘Internet of Things’ refers to a network of non-traditional computer devices connected through the Internet. Gartner predicts that the number of IoT connected devices will increase from 900 million in 2013 to 26 billion in 2020, driven not only by the demand for connected devices but also by lowering cost of sensors and microprocessors which form the basic hardware for IoT enabled devices, such that connectivity will become the hygiene feature for most devices.
The medical devices industry is one of the largest adopters of IoT technology as it offers several advantages not only to the end consumer of healthcare services but also to medical device manufacturers. While patients will benefit the most from personalized healthcare and proactive medical treatments, the manufacturers will benefit immensely by monitoring usage and error patterns of medical devices. All this is facilitated by collection and real time transmission of key information, from which critical insights can be drawn through Big Data Analytics. It is estimated that IoT in medical devices will potentially add $285 billion worth of economic value add to healthcare providers alone, by 2020.
Medical Devices have evolved from simple instruments relying solely on manual monitoring to digital instruments with minimal or no manual input. IoT enabled medical devices will not only transform the healthcare delivery value chain, they will also revolutionize the way manufacturers perform life cycle management and aftermarket support for medical devices. An IoT medical device which can detect, record and transmit information of its own usage, generating the following direct benefits for its manufacturer:
Continuous Product Improvement/ Re-engineering: Medical device manufacturers face immense pressure in launching a new product in minimum possible turnaround time, in order to stay ahead of competition. Medical technology companies need to innovate continuously just to remain relevant and maintain revenue. It therefore, becomes extremely important to re-engineer medical devices based on end user feedback. IoT medical devices can communicate product usage data in real time to manufacturers, from which they can extract essential information such as the most/ least used features, the features/ components resulting in most cases of malfunction, and usage patterns of various end user segments among other insights. For example, if a medical device is using up a particular consumable at a higher than expected rate, resulting in greater number of trips to replenish the consumable, its storage capacity may be increased in the next design iteration.
Product Feature Enhancement: Data generated by IoT enabled medical devices may be utilized by manufacturers to decide new features to be added to the product. For instance by monitoring data recorded by a monitoring device such as a blood glucose meter along with intermittent changes made to the device by the supervising doctor, medical device companies can enhance the software of the meter to automate certain actions not requiring the doctor’s intermediation.
Predictive Maintenance: By regularly examining usage data being generated by IoT medical devices, manufacturers can predict imminent incidences of device malfunction or failure and initiate a repair/maintenance exercise before the malfunction/failure actually occurs. Moreover, manufacturers may also determine the faulty component to be replaced/ repaired or any consumable to be replenished prior to physical examination of the device by a service technician. Such a scenario will enable substantial cost savings for medical device manufacturers in providing aftermarket support services. It will also result in lower machine downtime for the end user.
While healthcare delivery is evolving from a product-oriented to a solution-oriented ecosystem owing to IoT related investments by medical device manufacturers, it is the end consumer who is realizing the immediate benefits. In the long run manufacturers will gain immensely on account of economies of scale as well as scope in bringing down their costs of performing sustenance engineering as well as providing after market support.