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IoT: Opportunities and Use Cases for Life Sciences Organizations

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Internet of Things (IoT) is a catch-all term that refers to any device that can connect to a network (including the Internet) and communicate with other devices.

IoT devices can work alone or in tandem with other devices, enabling flexibility in how devices and services can be deployed. In some cases, the devices can use the information to preemptively carry out certain actions. In these cases, machine learning and artificial intelligence models may be leveraged to further improve utility of the IoT.

For the healthcare industry specifically, connecting devices to one another and the Internet opens the door to a host of possibilities for how healthcare stakeholders can interact. COVID-19 has disrupted conventional medical delivery, paving the way for technologies like the IoT to create significant change in the healthcare sector. Below we have highlighted some promising use cases for IoT specifically relevant to medical device and pharmaceutical companies.

Medical Device Use Cases

The IoT has opened a world of possibilities for medical devices. When connected to the Internet, ordinary medical devices have the potential to improve healthcare delivery and streamline operations.

  • Remote Patient Monitoring: Remote patient monitoring enables providers to have real-time insight into patient behavior. IoT devices can automate and remotely collect various patient vital signs and behavioral data, thus supporting better patient care management. With real-time data available to providers, proactive intervention by the provider is supported with this newly available information on patient status. The examples listed below demonstrate the various uses for IOT across multiple care processes:
    • An IoT-connected blood pressure monitor can automatically send blood pressure results to the primary care doctor. This information is also made available to the patient via a digital portal. These data ensure that the patient’s current medication regimen is effective and allow for adjustments to be made between check-ups as needed, thereby reducing the number of visits required for monitoring and management.
    • The use of IoT can also extend to inpatient settings where the patient needs round-the-clock monitoring by supplementing existing monitoring equipment. For example, one such device is a digital ring that constantly monitors a patient’s vital signs and leverages artificial intelligence to identify irregularities to support providers in ongoing patient management in the hospital.
    • Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) can be augmented to communicate with insulin pumps to maintain ideal glucose levels. This can also be taken a step further by having the CGM send information to an electronic health record system to inform the provider more robust insight into glucose levels.
  • Inventory Tracking: IoT use in healthcare can help reduce the time spent seeking or tracking medications and equipment, freeing up more time for providers to dedicate to patient treatment. The information these devices provide can be used to inform better supply chain management decisions. Combining this asset with blockchain technology provides an extra layer of security and tracking through its immutable ledger system (i.e., the record cannot be changed).
    • Radio-frequency identification tags can be placed on items, providing real-time tracking of inventory. The tags help prevent theft, generate insights on the utilization of medical devices including conditions that result in malfunction, and inform users when devices may require maintenance.
    • Smart storage devices such as smart cabinets are being developed to assist with tracking how medications are dispensed. The data can be accessed via various connected devices (such as a tablet) and can help inform healthcare staff with inventory planning.

Pharmaceutical Use Cases

The end-to-end pharma value chain (i.e., drug development, clinical trials, manufacturing, and distribution) is laced with various operational challenges. IoT devices may provide an avenue to address some of these challenges. Below we discuss the use cases for drug development and discovery, clinical trials, medication adherence, manufacturing control, and supply chain.

  • Drug Discovery and Development: IoT can support more efficient clinical research and testing compared to the traditional trial and error approach. In research and development, IoT-supported analytics help to reduce human errors, increase efficiency, and reduce waste. The IoT provides interconnectivity of data and increases real-time visibility during drug development. It also helps clinicians recognize behavioral patterns associated with patient outcomes more effectively than traditional approaches.
  • Clinical Trials: Clinical trials require complex designs, accurate and consistent data collection, and clinical staffing for monitoring and evaluation. The benefits of IoT for clinical trials include patient engagement and empowerment, flexible trial design, faster patient enrollment and retention, higher data quality and integrity, real-time data capture, reduced operational expenses and remote patient monitoring. In a survey by Applied Clinical Trials, 35% of respondents answered that improvement in data quality was the biggest benefit of mobile devices and mHealth technology (IoT-enabled devices) in clinical trials.
  • Manufacturing Control and Supply Chain Management: IoT devices provide the pharmaceutical industry with opportunities to improve the drug manufacturing process, proactive equipment maintenance, and improved supply chain management. Referred to as the Internet of Things for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing (IoT-PM), the IoT-PM has the potential to revolutionize operations in pharmaceutical manufacturing by allowing real-time and remote monitoring of manufacturing activities. These enhancements support waste minimization, reduced production cost and improved equipment utilization and efficiency. Thirty percent of the top 20 pharma companies have adopted IoT technologies in their manufacturing process at some level.
    • Sensors in the manufacturing plant can provide remote monitoring and real-time information on equipment like pressure gauges, pH probes, air compressors, and vacuum pumps. The information gathered can be used for planning maintenance and repair, minimizing downtime, forecasting demand of raw materials, and ensuring workplace safety. Machine learning can be applied to data generated from the IoT devices to analyze the equipment utilization, thereby providing a foundation for predictive maintenance of equipment.
    • Other examples of supply chain use cases for pharmaceutical companies include smart warehouse management systems, monitoring and controlling of ambient and drug-specific conditions, predictive modelling to optimize order fulfilment, real-time tracking of logistics and transportation, smart serialization through automatic identification and data capturing, and reverse supply chain traceability for hazardous waste.
    • Vaccines must be stored properly throughout the supply chain from manufacturing until administration. Guaranteeing vaccine quality and maintaining the cold chain is a shared responsibility among the manufacturers, distribution channels, public health staffs, and healthcare providers. With the recent development of COVID vaccines, it is important to minimize loss of vaccines at all cost. To this end, IoT sensors can help monitor temperatures of the vaccine container in real time. The system can send alerts if the temperature falls outside of acceptable bounds and activate other systems in order to better modulate the temperature.
  • Medication adherence: About 125,000 deaths per year in the US are attributed to non-adherence of medication, and 33–69% of medication-related hospital admissions are due to poor adherence. Direct and indirect cost of non-adherence range from $100 billion to $300 billion a year. Non-adherence also has personal societal costs beyond financial ones, including poor health outcomes leading to increased morbidity and mortality, lost productivity, and compromised quality of life. IoT-enabled devices have a role to play in medication adherence through medication reminders to the patient, notification to providers, and remote medication adherence monitoring. Examples of IoT use cases for medication adherence include:
    • Smart pill bottles and smart pill dispensers that can enable better connection between patients and caregivers. They can remind patients to take their medications and alert caregivers when prescriptions are taken.
    • Another use case is a pillbox with a global system for mobile communications at its core, which allows real-time medication management and emails or text message reminders that can be sent to patients and caregivers if medication is missed.

The IoT has to address several challenges before widescale adoption can be achieved in the healthcare sector, which historically has been slow to adopt new technology. Some barriers that could limit adoption include lack of evidence, security and privacy, cost of implementation, and coverage issues. Successful implementation and adoption will rely on stakeholders establishing robust evidence of benefit and usability and formalizing multi-stakeholder collaborations. Life sciences organizations looking to leverage the IoT need to stay abreast of evolving security and privacy regulations and standards.

Healthcare IoT shows great promise to be a catalyst for innovation in the life sciences industry. From optimizing how therapies are developed to assisting patient adherence, IoT solutions are being developed to improve drug development, operational efficiency, and patient outcomes. Despite the existing barriers to adoption, there are a variety of benefits that the technology introduces to various stakeholders in the healthcare industry.

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