The average consumer now owns about four devices that are internet enabled - all of which are capable of taking in and transmitting data to and from other sources. However, not all of these devices can "talk" to one another. Having smart devices that are capable of communicating with each other is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). We are on the cusp of a future where all of our smart devices work together to create a seamless ecosystem that transmits information to control various household items.
While a home with smart appliances that record, respond, and adjust to changes seemingly independently may seem an ambitious goal, the future is now. The advent of smart thermostats, lights, and even refrigerators that help you automatically manage your grocery list all indicate that the IoT is gaining steam and is here to stay.
The Internet of Things' Role in Healthcare
The IoT is beginning to demonstrate compelling applications in healthcare - particularly in the category of remote patient monitoring. Internet-enabled monitoring devices can be used to gather and record patient data, alerting healthcare providers of any changes or emergency situations that require attention. Collecting medical data remotely (and in real time) through the IoT benefits both the patient and the provider and, ultimately, leads to better outcomes and reduced costs.
The ability to have vitals and biometric data transmitted directly to healthcare providers allows them to tend to patients' needs faster and more efficiently than ever before. Connected, wearable devices, for example, can alert healthcare providers, emergency responders, and even family members instantly if a patient’s biometric data indicate signs of distress. The IoT also provides accurate, historical data that helps providers detect trends and refine treatment plans accordingly. Notably, this is accomplished without the need for the patient to come into an office or the provider devoting additional staff time to monitoring.
IoT and Text Messaging
Given the sheer amount of healthcare data created by the IoT, how do healthcare providers and patients know when action is required and, what is the best approach for alerting and communicating instructions? One answer is text messaging.
This communication channel can be extremely useful after a medical procedure or in the ongoing management of chronic conditions. Consider the patient that has a "smart" pill bottle that helps monitor medication adherence. If the data shows they have not been adequately keeping up with their medication, their case manager is alerted via text messaging. The case manager will then have the information they need to reach out to the patient. At the same time, they can initiate tailored text message medication reminders. This same idea applies to diabetic patients. In the situation where a patient logs their blood glucose levels using their smartphone or a portal, and the data suggests a potential problem, instructions sent via text message help the patient get their blood sugar back to normal before it reaches dangerous levels.
Why Text Messaging?
Text messaging is particularly well suited to complement the power of IoT in healthcare. First and foremost, the vast majority of adults in the US regularly text - regardless of socioeconomic status or age. Texting is simple and straightforward. There are no apps to download and notifications to configure. The other often overlooked healthcare-related benefit of text messaging is one of immediacy. Studies have shown we read most text messages within three minutes of receipt. This fact far exceeds the speed at which we read emails, check voice mails or log into our patient portals. It is simply no contest. Finally, studies also show that we keep our mobile device with us 22 hours out of every day. The case for text messaging boils down to simplicity, ubiquity, and immediacy. Three critical characteristics when considering healthcare-related communications.
The Next Steps
IoT devices can help to save lives and improve the quality of life for many patients. These systems offer care teams the opportunity to analyze patient data remotely and provide real-time feedback and guidance to patients. Supplementing IoT with text message communication further enhances its value to turn data into information and activate patients - prompting to take the right steps at the right time that keep them on the path to positive outcomes.
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