How Connected Medical Devices Will Revolutionize Healthcare

Written by: Michelle Boucher
5/13/2024

Read Time: 5 min

Connected medical devices create many exciting opportunities to transform healthcare for the better. They can advance the quality of patient care, lower healthcare costs, and improve people's lives. Let's explore this.

What are connected medical devices?

A connected medical device communicates with other devices, networks, or systems by leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT). Technological advancements enabling improvements in processing power, wireless technology, miniaturization, big data, analytics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies have opened the door for IoT and innovation opportunities in healthcare. Consequently, connected medical devices have become a powerful tool for treating, monitoring, and personalizing health care in ways that will lead to superior patient outcomes. The opportunities are so substantial that the global Internet of Things for healthcare is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 21.2% from 2024 to 2030, reaching an impressive $169.99 billion by 2030.

Why are connected devices in healthcare important?

Healthcare costs continue to rise, especially in the US, which spends more on healthcare than any other high-income nation yet sees worse outcomes. We need better methods for providing healthcare. In addition, healthcare needs to be more accessible, especially to serve rural communities and remote areas. The healthcare industry also suffers from staffing shortages, while an aging population places more demand on limited resources. Some hospitals, such as those in Washington State and Mass General in Boston, have a capacity crisis, meaning they do not have enough beds for patients. Even automating some processes, such as monitoring vitals and dispensing medication, could provide welcome relief to reduce the workload burden on overworked and exhausted healthcare workers.

One of the largest expenses in the US healthcare system is readmissions. A surprising 20% of all Medicare discharges are readmitted within 30 days. Over $52.4 billion is spent annually on patients readmitted in under 30 days. Imagine the impact of improving the quality of at-home care. With better remote monitoring, interventions can happen before a readmission is required.

Another area of high cost is the treatment of chronic diseases such as Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). CKD affects more than 1 in 7 US adults, an estimated 37 million people. Essential treatment is so costly that CKD represents 25.2% of Medicare spending in those 66 or over. Improved treatment approaches can drastically lower this cost and improve the patient’s quality of life.

Dr. Mathias Kuss, Head of Data Solutions at Fresenius Medical Care, comments on IoT’s importance here:

What types of connected devices are used in healthcare?

There are several examples of connected medical devices. Categories range from wearable, implanted, and stationary equipment, and they can be used for diagnostic monitoring and therapy. Common monitoring includes heart rate, glucose, and oxygen levels. When the monitor picks up an abnormality, it can alert the patient and/or doctor. Continuous patient monitoring is more convenient than an office visit and more effective than checking a signal point in time, especially for things like glucose and heart rates that can fluctuate.

Implanted devices include pacemakers, bladder stimulators, and diaphragm stimulators. The devices also read a variety of biosensors and make adjustments based on what the patient's body needs.

Stationary equipment includes ultrasounds, x-rays, and MRI scans. The equipment can then share images with the patient's medical team to support diagnosis. Stationary equipment also includes lab equipment for testing blood and urine. With connected devices, images can be combined with lab results and patient health data to understand the patient's situation better.

What are the benefits of using connected medical devices?

Connected medical devices offer numerous benefits. Let’s discuss a few.

Improved patient outcomes

While every person is different, with connected medical devices, you can get more insights into their response to the treatment. With these insights, you can tailor the therapy to that unique individual, personalizing their care to improve their overall quality of life.

Dr. Mathias Kuss elaborates on how insights like this can optimize treatments that will result in better care and improved outcomes: 

 

With real-time monitoring, it can also be easier to catch side effects sooner. Then, with this knowledge, you can adjust the therapy to minimize or avoid the side effects, improving overall patient health.

Reduced healthcare costs

With connected medical devices, patients can continue to be monitored after they are discharged for better care at home. The patient or doctor can then be notified if the patient is not responding as expected or if their treatment needs an adjustment before they have to be readmitted. This can significantly cut down on the cost of readmissions. Plus, earlier interventions and options to optimize treatments based on real-time monitoring may accelerate recovery, saving more costs. With real-time monitoring, patients may also minimize the number of in-person follow-up visits because the device will "report" how the patient is doing. Connected devices can also automate and manage parts of the treatment, relying less on healthcare workers' time.

Human-error avoidance

Connected medical devices can automate parts of the treatment, reducing the risk of human error. The device can send an alert if there is a problem, rather than leaving it to the healthcare worker or patient to notice. Devices can also send reminders to patients to take their medication on time or even administer the treatment, such as with a connected insulin pump.

Real-time patient monitoring

Rather than tying patients to a hospital bed for monitoring, connected medical devices offer real-time patient monitoring so they can be more independent and shorten their recovery time. Continuous monitoring makes it more likely to catch a potential concern rather than relying on a single point in time during a test at a medical facility. The device can capture invaluable patient data, which can be put in context with the rest of the patient's medical record to make it actionable. They can also validate that the therapy achieves the desired outcome or adjust it if it isn't. The data can also be accessible to all healthcare team members, including nurses, primary care physicians, and specialists.

Extending the value even further, medical professionals can view anonymized data in aggregate to provide baseline standards. Device manufacturers can also use anonymous data in aggregate to validate device performance against specifications or to determine future enhancements.

Increased safety

In addition to identifying side effects quickly and minimizing the risk of human error, connected medical devices increase safety in other ways as Dr. Kuss observes: 

More personalized treatments

The insights made possible with connected devices allow medical teams to determine whether treatments have the desired outcome. They can tailor that treatment to the patient and adjust as needed.

Minimize or avoid downtime

Connected devices can also enable predictive maintenance. For example, the machine or device could sense a vibration that seemed off and the IoT software can alert the manufacturer or service team that there may be a problem. it can be scheduled before the machine goes down, so the technician will already have a general idea of what's required, reducing the time to repair. Predictive maintenance also means the medical facility can avoid the machine going down at an inopportune time or waiting for the repair, so there is minimal disruption, if any, to the delivery of medical services, avoiding the need to cancel or reschedule needed appointments.

Engineering and R&D insights

Connected medical devices can also help engineering and R&D teams become more innovative. Device data can be fed back to engineering so that they understand how a machine or device is used. With this insight, they can assess how well their product works and where their customers may have problems. This can inspire new ideas for innovation and help them identify opportunities to improve functionality with software updates or redesigned parts. They can also see which features are not used and remove them, so the company saves money by not maintaining unused functions. By using a product development system that supports a digital thread, such as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), engineers can trace the impact of changing, adding, or removing features. This level of traceability is especially valuable with features that cross multiple engineering disciplines, such as mechanical, electrical, electronics, and software.

What are some risks associated with connected medical devices?

While connected medical devices offer many benefits, there are some risks.

Privacy and security

While there is much value in streaming medical data, personal data must be protected and treated in compliance with standards and regulations such as HIPAA and GDPR. Data must also be encrypted when it is transferred and stored to limit access to only those who need to see it. To support post-market surveillance required by EU MDR, clinics need to anonymize personalized patient data to share it with device manufacturers. Device manufacturers must also protect devices from cybersecurity threats to ensure devices are not compromised.

Accuracy and reliability

With patients and medical teams relying on connected medical devices, they must be accurate and reliable. This is an area where digital twins of patients and devices may help with simulations and testing to verify accuracy and reliability.

Interoperability

Interoperability becomes critical to connect different machines, systems, and software applications. For example, a glucose monitor, and a connected insulin pump should talk to each other.

Dr. Kuss explains the additional complexity:

It is a lot to manage all the different versions and configurations of an entire portfolio and ensure they are interoperable. Plus, some devices or applications may be developed by third parties, adding another complication.

However, beyond the complexity of managing interoperability, a bigger challenge is the lack of standard communication protocols across devices. While significant effort is going into developing standards, more work is needed. Plus, older devices will need to be retrofitted, if possible, to support new communication protocols once standardized.

The future of connected devices in healthcare

Connected medical devices will be a compelling part of the future of healthcare. Artificial intelligence (AI), including machine learning (ML) and generative AI, will likely play a role. AI can process vast amounts of data in far less time. It can look for patterns in a patient's streaming data and combine it with reported symptoms and the latest medical research to improve diagnoses or suggest alternative treatments. This may also help medical device R&D teams to come up with new ideas for treatment. AI will also likely play a role in servicing and assessing the performance of medical devices.

See how connected devices work in real time

Dr. Kuss explains why connected devices can make such a difference in a patient's quality of life:

Connected medical devices provide the data they can combine with other life factors to support this level of personalization. The result is an individualized treatment plan that leads to a higher quality of life.

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Tags: Connected Devices Life Sciences Industrial Internet of Things

About the Author

Michelle Boucher

Michelle Boucher is the Vice President of Research for Engineering Practices for research firm Tech-Clarity. Ms. Boucher has spent over 20 years in various roles in engineering, marketing, management, and as an analyst. She has broad experience with topics such as product design, simulation, systems engineering, mechatronics, embedded systems, PCB design, additive manufacturing, improving product performance, process improvement, and mass customization. She graduated magna cum laude with an MBA from Babson College and earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering, with distinction, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Ms. Boucher began her career holding various roles as a mechanical engineer at Pratt & Whitney and KONA (now Synventive Molding Solutions). She then spent over 10 years at PTC, a leading MCAD and PLM solution provider. While at PTC, she developed a deep understanding of end user needs through roles in technical support, management, and product marketing. She worked in technical marketing at Moldflow Corporation (acquired by Autodesk), the market leader in injection molding simulation. Here she was instrumental in developing product positioning and go-to-market messages. Ms. Boucher then joined Aberdeen Group and covered product innovation, product development, and engineering processes, eventually running the Product Innovation and Engineering practice.

Ms. Boucher is an experienced researcher and author. She has benchmarked over 7000 product development professionals and published over 90 reports on product development best practices. She focuses on helping companies manage the complexity of today’s products, markets, design environments, and value chains to achieve higher profitability.