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As Covid-19 hounds the world, AI and IoT lead the charge in Healthcare 4.0


This article was originally published in ET and has been reproduced here with permission.

Hospitals and medical centers are getting overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the spread of the pandemic. While IoT in healthcare had already dominated the public discourse, the onset of Covid-19 has been a watershed development.

At a hospital in Wuhan in China, robots and IoT devices were used to check patients’ temperatures, as well as monitor their heart rates and sugar levels through a smart bracelet worn by patients. They also cleaned and disinfected the area, apart from providing food and medicines to patients. Best of all, they even entertained patients with some dance moves.

Welcome to the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) in healthcare!

Globally, the healthcare landscape is stretched. And when you factor in a pandemic like Covid-19, it’s a knockout blow. From a previously projected 36 million for 2020, telehealth visits will jump to 1 billion visits this year as over 200 countries try to tackle varying degrees of Covid-19 effects, per Forrester.

Hospitals and medical centers are getting overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the spread of the pandemic. While IoT in healthcare had already dominated the public discourse, the onset of Covid-19 has been a watershed development.

In all of this, the integration of medical “things” — smart devices with built-in sensors and smart algorithms, mHealth apps, and connected technologies — is proving decisive in the fight against Covid-19. Needless to say, there’s never been a more urgent reason as today to mobilize digital innovations for providing healthcare services remotely through computing devices and patient-facing AI-powered apps.

Tech trends such as AI, virtual healthcare management, and telemedicine are proving critical in tackling a Covid-like behemoth. In these unprecedented times, the need is to connect health systems that can reduce manual tasks for an overstretched staff. And Big Data analytics has become key to monitor the spread of coronavirus.

With data and analytics enabling direct and continuous connect with users, and natural language processing analysing vast amounts of people health data, the focus has clearly shifted to prevention ahead of cure. For example, AI is helping to decode patterns of spread of the disease via genome sequencing methods or high-resolution computer-generated simulation.

We are clearly in a time where we’ll see an enhanced use of bots and applications to triage Covid-like symptoms early, as well as use of cobots to avoid disruptions in service operations due to shortage of healthcare personnel. Eventually, this will enable a more automated consolidation of data to leverage the power of AI in healthcare.

Telecom networks are at the forefront in helping develop IoT solutions during Covid. For example, real-time location systems (RTLS) like RFID bracelets aid in identifying quarantined patients, monitoring their movements and providing emergency care. RTLS also helps in patient tracking, as well as track critical assets like ventilators as well as ambulance connectivity.

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) and telemedicine is playing a big role in patient care. As people with comorbidities like diabetics as well as heart patients are less immune to the virus, devices to monitor their conditions have proven to be a lifesaver.

For patients with suspected Covid-19 pneumonia, a lung ultrasound built by leveraging AI and 4G/5G is an efficient point-of-care tool – it reduces the use of chest x-rays and CT scans. The platform enables remote visualization of real-time lung ultrasound images with a smart supportive tool to diagnose symptoms and conduct severity grading.

The predicted persistence of Covid in the future will necessitate diagnostic testing outside of the clinic and in public places like airports, prisons, or universities. This will necessitate a universal registry of Covid test data. This will lead to a new normal of IOT-enabled diagnostic devices in public places, from which data will be rolled out to a central registry where geospatial mapping will be done to identify hotspots to enable better disease management.

IoT – the advantages outweigh the challenges

IoT in healthcare is challenged due to low levels of internet coverage, especially in countries like India. Also, the technological capability of hospitals, cost factors, and issues of data compromise due to cybersecurity are prohibiting its wider usage. Covid-19 has exposed this more than ever. However, the benefits to budgets, operations, and patient care far outweigh the risks when analysing its implementation.

Healthcare costs are shooting through the roof especially during the pandemic, and a cut in unnecessary visits to doctors, hospital stays and re-admissions, and home treatment greatly reduces healthcare costs. Goldman Sachs estimates IoMT will save the industry $300 billion in the near future. Covid-19 will catapult these figures.

As a holistic and preventive system, IoT in healthcare provides a shift from cost-based to value-based healthcare thereby strengthening existing B2B plays and introducing new B2C approaches. Its socio-economic benefits to people, end users, governments, and businesses through advanced and improved healthcare delivery is unmatched. That’s enough reason to go all out for IoT in healthcare and to make Preventative Health 4.0 a reality.