In 2020, the global Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) market was worth $42 billion. This worth will jump to nearly $188 billion by 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights. Powering a huge percentage of this growth are advancements in connected devices.
Not only do connected devices promise to be a lucrative niche for years to come, but they also bring the promise of better, more affordable health care and support for millions around the world. Connected devices have already made healthcare more accessible to populations underserved and unable to afford standard care. They have also revolutionized how we treat many diseases and increased positive outcomes in chronic disease treatment.
To see the full potential of connected devices, you first need to understand what they are and how they work. From there, we’ll look at how this life-changing technology is already being used to treat various chronic conditions and how companies can develop their own connected tech to seize opportunities that still exist.
What Is a Connected Device?
A connected device is any device that can connect to other devices to transmit and/or receive information. Some connected devices connect only to the internet where the shared information is accessed via computers, tablets, or smartphones. Others connect to specific applications on mobile devices or other physical devices.
Connected devices exist in both the consumer tech world and the medical tech world. When used to treat, diagnose, or monitor an ailment, these devices are considered connected medical devices. Some devices that straddle the line between medical and consumer tech only support doctors and patients in caring for medical conditions. These devices do not require FDA approval. However, the development process is similar.
Connected medical devices can be broken down into different categories based on their function or intended use. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices are used to collect specific data on a patient and transmit it to their care team. Wearables are any connected device that is physically worn by the patient to monitor movement, vitals, or other physical traits. Implants are surgically placed in the body and connect with an app or receiver the patient or doctor controls. And some connected devices are simply used when needed, such as blood glucose meters. Electronic health records (EHR) often connect to all of these types of devices or the platforms they work with and are themselves considered connected medical devices.
How Do Connected Devices Work?
Connected devices typically communicate through one of three channels.
For many years, the only way connected devices could transmit data was through radio frequency. These devices require a special transmitter that connects to the internet. The information from the device is wirelessly transmitted to the transmitter via radio waves when the device is within range. The transmitter then shares the information with the care team via the Internet.
Many connected devices today utilize Bluetooth technology to communicate. Bluetooth connections allow them to share data over a short distance with a connected platform. This is typically an application on a smartphone or tablet, but Bluetooth can also be used between medical devices, such as insulin pumps and glucose monitors.
More recently, connected devices have been designed to utilize wifi connections to communicate. These devices have the added advantage of being able to accept large amounts of data from connected platforms and devices. Typically, these smart devices can be remotely updated and can utilize data from and store data on the cloud.
How Connected Devices are Being Used to Advance Med Tech
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been around for less than two decades. In that time, we have seen connected medical devices go from a single wireless pacemaker connected via radio frequency to thousands of smart connected devices capable of transforming lives. Here is a quick look at some of the chronic conditions that have benefitted from connected device technology.
One of the greatest examples of connected device advancements is in the world of diabetes. What started out as insulin pumps accepting readings wirelessly from blood glucose meters has expanded into highly intelligent interconnected systems that use pumps, meters, and continuous glucose monitors (CGM) to automatically adjust insulin rates to keep blood sugar within range.
Developers continue to build on this interconnected web of treatment tools. Current research is focused on enabling people living with diabetes to use pictures they take on their phones to calculate meal boluses which are automatically communicated to their pumps and integrated with CGM data. Other companies are working on connected wearables that track body movement and use behavior analysis to automatically bolus for meals whenever the user eats.
Nearly half of all American adults suffer from hypertension. Advancements in connected devices and associated mobile applications are helping them better manage this condition to avoid serious and costly comorbidities. Connected home blood pressure cuffs allow doctors to track patient progress from afar while connected mobile apps help patients stay on top of their medications, graph blood pressure readings throughout the day, and detect abnormal heart rhythms.
Advancements in the works look to transform simple wearables, like smartwatches, into connected blood pressure monitors for continuous data input.
There are a variety of nonmedical connected devices on the market used to detect and alarm for seizure activity. These include wearables like smartwatches, mattress sensors, and infrared cameras. There are also some options available and in development that utilize implanted devices to stimulate the vagus nerve or specific areas of the brain to reduce seizure activity.
Mental illness takes many forms and so must the connected devices used to help treat and support patients. To track medication adherence, one company has developed pills with sensors in them that trigger a smartphone-connected patch worn on the skin whenever the medication is ingested.
Other projects look to use biofeedback to warn patients and their caregivers of potential problems. One such connected device uses pulse and other vitals to trigger soothing vibrating pads worn on the wrists anytime anxiety is detected. Others use integrated data from multiple devices to send warnings of oncoming episodes.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Connected wearable devices have helped researchers identify abnormalities in gastrointestinal nerve function in people suffering from IBS. In terms of treatment, one approved option features a device worn around the ear that sends mild electric impulses to cranial nerve bundles to reduce pain associated with abdominal discomfort.
Pregnancy and Childbirth
Advancements in supporting women through pregnancy and childbirth revolve around wearables that make the entire process more transparent and safer for baby and mom. For pregnancy, one team has created wearable patches that track the baby’s development while also monitoring the environment for problematic exposure. Other patches have been created specifically to monitor for contractions and help expectant mothers differentiate between Braxton hicks and the real thing.
In the delivery room, old, clunky, uncomfortable monitors are being replaced by wireless connected patches that monitor the baby while allowing the mom to move freely. Much of the same technology is being used to monitor newborn vitals. These patches and wraps connect to phone and tablet applications to alert caregivers to potential problems with oxygen saturation, pulse, and temperature.
There are many opportunities for connected medical device use in diagnosing and treating cystic fibrosis, some of which are already available while others are still in development. One such device that has shown promise to aid in early diagnosis is a wearable that monitors the salt levels in sweat to identify CF before clinical symptoms begin. Another device focuses on the early detection of pulmonary exacerbations in people with CF, providing care teams valuable time to react to reduce damage.
Aging, Hormones, and Metabolic Changes
Aging is a chronic condition we all experience. With it comes changes in hormone levels and metabolic rate. Various connected devices have been developed to help monitor the aging process and treat changes that may become problematic.
For women, many hormone monitoring devices are available to help users through the stages of menopause. Insertable hormone detectors connect with mobile apps to give users real-time information on hormone changes throughout the month and from month to month. Others connect to at-home blood test meters that measure hormones to keep patients and doctors in the loop.
Older adults are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and other metabolic disorders. CGMs marketed for non-diabetics help detect blood sugar changes early so patients can make changes to their diet and routine that will be effective for their bodies. Many wearable devices focus on encouraging exercise and stress reduction using step counters, heart rate monitors, and blood pressure monitors to reduce metabolic risk.
Current work in the realm of connected devices for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is centered around wearable devices that can help detect the disease before clinical symptoms become obvious and wearables to keep early sufferers independent for longer. The former uses sensors and connected tracking devices and applications to monitor movement, cognitive functions, memory, and sleep to detect important changes. The latter uses activity trackers to encourage movement and exercise and AI-enabled devices to aid in communication and cognitive tasks.
Migraines and Chronic Pain Conditions
Drug-free methods for pain management have recently evolved from traditional Eastern medicine to high-tech connected devices. Many of these utilize nerve or neuro-stimulation to interrupt pain-processing pathways in the brain. Some take on a simple, wearable design, including hats with neuromodulation devices built into the band that help fight migraines and chronic pain and reduce stress.
More invasive applications include implanted devices that work with a wireless remote or phone app to provide electrical stimulation to counteract pain signals. These devices can be implanted in the spinal cord or, more recently, within the dorsal root ganglia.
Asthma and COPD
Inhalers have long been the preferred method of treatment for asthma and COPD. But these devices are often misused or underutilized by patients. Smart inhalers aim to change these trends. These new connected devices communicate with a smartphone app to track when, where, and how often the inhaler is used. Some can also remind patients of missed doses and warn them if they leave the house without their inhaler.
Highly integrated apps can use local weather forecasts, allergen counts, and pulse oximeters to help the user treat before breathing problems occur. Some specialty connected inhalers can double as lung testing devices and record data in the associated application.
Chronic Kidney Disease
Treating patients with chronic kidney disease is an area where many opportunities still exist. These patients frequently struggle with complications from their condition that would benefit from close monitoring. Smartphone applications integrated with smart scales, blood pressure cuffs, and pulse oximeters could help patients keep a closer eye on fluid retention and worsening complications.
Integrating a CGM with this type of app would be imperative given how many people living with diabetes suffer from kidney problems. People with CKD often experience heart failure and heart attacks, making wearable ECG monitors another obvious device to incorporate.
Multiple sclerosis is the most common autoimmune system disease to affect the central nervous system. Smart devices have long been helpful for people suffering from the condition, but only recently have connected medical devices been used to treat the disease itself.
Researchers have developed a promising connected neuro-electrostimulation system. The system delivers low-frequency electrostimulation to specific clusters of damaged neurons in the brain to induce repair. The pulses are generated by an implant and controlled by a connected wireless phone app. Other possible treatment and supportive care devices include motion sensors used to track changes in walking impairment, falls, fatigue, and sleep quality.
Parkinson’s disease is another neurological condition that is just beginning to benefit from advancements in connected devices. Many of these focus on tracking symptom progression using wearables that sense changes in gait and movement. Actual treatment options appear to be a ways off, but will likely include neurological stimulation devices and connected applications.
Developing Connected Devices
The opportunities for developing marketable connected devices for the medical field are growing as science advances. But creating these devices requires more than getting the physical device to work.
In order to connect these devices to usable applications and make them interoperable with other devices, you need agile, adaptable software. For devices used to diagnose, treat, or mitigate health conditions you’ll also need to assure all parts of the system meet FDA requirements. Neither of these is something hardware companies want to try their hand at alone.
Sequenex has decades of experience designing and developing software systems for the diabetes niche and connected device industry. If you need a partner to help develop your connected device for chronic conditions, connect with us today.