The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) describes a growing network of medical devices and software applications connected through health care technology systems. IoMT includes millions of devices embedded with electronics and sensors, which in turn use software and networks to collect and exchange data.

Understanding the Internet of Things

The Internet of Medical Things may sound complex, and at a technical level it is. But chances are you already interact with the IoT in healthcare. Electronic health records and health wearables like your Fitbit are just two examples of the IoMT in your everyday life. 

The Internet of Things includes any machine-to-machine communication using wireless technology. The “things” in the IoT include any object that can be assigned an IP address and given the ability to transfer data over a network. This can be a person with a heart monitor implant or a tablet used by hospital staff.

When it comes to the Internet of Medical Things, the sky really is the limit. Since IPv6 expanded the number of available IP addresses, you could theoretically assign an IP address to every atom on earth – and there would still be addresses left to spare.

A typical IoMT hospital (Dimitrov 2016)

Keeping pace with the IoMT

The IoMT is growing fast. In 2019, nearly 90 percent of global health care organizations will have implemented Internet of Things technologies, according to a Frost & Sullivan analysis.

By 2020, healthcare will account for 40 percent of Internet of Things technology. The global IoMT market is expected to reach $136.8 billion by 2021, driven in large part by cheap sensor technology and easy availability of wearable smart devices.

The IoMT in segments

A useful way to grasp the many components of this global network is to consider the IoMT by market segments. The IoMT includes the following parts: on-body, in-home, community, and in-hospital segments.

The on-body segment includes consumer health wearables as well as medical-grade wearable devices. Activity trackers, sports watches, and smart garments are all examples of consumer wearables. Clinical-grade devices include any wearable certified by health regulators like the US FDA.

In homes, the IoMT includes personal emergency response systems, remote patient monitoring, and tele-health virtual visits. This includes devices for managing chronic diseases, in-home care for the elderly, and remote medication management.

The community segment includes medical devices and stations dispersed across a city or area. Examples include mobility services (to track health parameters for patients in transit), emergency response intelligence, and point-of-care devices used by providers outside of traditional healthcare are settings.

The in-hospital segment includes IoMT-enabled devices that help hospitals manage assets, personnel, and patient flow. For example, monitors can now easily track high-value equipment like infusion pumps and wheelchairs as they move through a facility. IoMT also improves inventory management and can help hospitals track and improve patient flow during a visit.

Opportunities and challenges

The growing connectivity of medical devices provides obvious opportunities for healthcare, including better chronic disease management and care for an aging world population. But it also creates challenges.

As collecting data gets easier, making meaningful use of it becomes harder. Healthcare IT systems are also working overtime to address security concerns as more medical and health data goes online. Unleashing the full potential of the IoMT will require more robust security standards and communication protocols for healthcare and medical data.