Vital Signs: The Internet of Things Intersects Healthcare

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatThe term “Internet of Things” may be new to you, or it might be something you’ve already grown weary of with eye-rolling boredom. Though a definition for the Internet of Things is still evolving, expect to hear a lot more about it in the future.

Basically, the Internet of Things revolves around the concept of things – instead of people – using the Internet to share information without the need for human interaction. Though a “thing” implies a device, it could mean any object and cover animals or even people. At the most basic level, an active RFID (radio frequency identification) tag qualifies.

A huge area of interest for the Internet of Things is in home automation and convenience. A security system is one obvious item, where sensors in your home report to a computer at the monitoring station what is happening when you’re away. Internet-connected garage doors are a reality today, as well as remotely accessible thermostats, nanny cams, and door locks. Looking into the future, the Internet of Things could report when your kids get home from school, who is with them, and if they leave; of course you will also know if they attended school or skipped. Dreaming a bit more, your kitchen could make your grocery list based on the contents of your cupboards and refrigerator or what you ate last night, even placing an order for you.

Another area for the Internet of Things is fitness. Devices – whether a stand-alone gadget or a smartphone app – can track how many steps we take in a day. With an Internet connection, this data can be sent to another computer for analysis, storage, or action. Imagine receiving a text message encouraging you to go for an evening walk because you haven’t hit your target number of steps for the day. These fitness devices can also monitor basic body functions such as heart rate, moving the Internet of Things into the area of healthcare.

Healthcare is rife with applications, both present and future, for the Internet of Things. Monitoring patients’ vital signs is common in the hospital environment, but the concept can be extended to home-based convalescence or hospice. Telehealth taps into the Internet of Things and can greatly expand because of it. Locating dementia patients who may have wandered off is feasible with the Internet of Things. Even remotely administering medications is a possibility. The list of potential healthcare applications is limited only by our ability to imagine grand solutions.

While the basic premise is that the Internet of Things moves data without human interaction, at a certain point some of this data will require human involvement. This may be to evaluate options when a preset threshold is met, initiate a response, or escalate action. The Internet of Things becomes a serious tool to keep us healthy and safe; lives are at stake.

At the intersection of healthcare and the Internet of Things can stand the modern healthcare contact center. After all, the medically minded call center already has the staffing and technological infrastructure largely in place to handle such tasks. Some call centers are already doing some of these things – though they haven’t likely considered them in the context of tapping into the Internet of Things – to serve patients and assist healthcare providers. Opportunities abound.

To be ready to make the most of these opportunities, look at the healthcare-related Internet of Things around you. Then investigate what your contact center needs in order to handle the required human aspect on the backend. It may be a bit of specific training or perhaps some server software to provide the needed interface. Be ready so that when someone comes to you with a problem stemming from the flood of data from the Internet of Things (IoT), you can nod and smile when you tell them, “Yes, we are IoT-enabled and ready to help.”

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his blogs, social media, and newsletter, all accessible from authorpeterdehaan.com.