Digital OB/GYN: The Internet of Things: Connectivity to improve lives

October 22, 2015

Improvements in data gathering and reporting make health monitoring easier.

 

Dr. Levine is Practice Director at the Colorado Center for 

Reproductive Medicine, New York, New York.

 

 

In June 2012, the International Telecommunication Union officially defined the Internet of Things (IoT) as a “global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.”1 In plain English, the IoT is an interconnected network of objects that have both integrated sensors and network connectivity to allow for exchange of data. So why is machine-to-machine communication built on cloud computing such a big deal? Well, while IoT may sound complicated and super-futuristic, nearly all of us are already using the IoT multiple times a day! The IoT is what makes our “smart” devices “smart.”

Although the IoT was officially defined in 2012, the concept is more than 20 years old. In a 1999 article, Neil Gross wrote, “In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations ... It consists of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices: thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, EKGs, electroencephalographs. These will probe and monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies-even our dreams.”2

Next: Real-world examples >>

 

Real-world examples

Photos courtesy Rest Devices, Inc.

One of my favorite real-world examples of IoT integration is Mimo, the brainchild of MIT engineers who are focused on helping to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Their proprietary Mimo kimono (a soft cotton onesie) sends an instantaneous notification to parents’ phones when a baby wakes up or has a change in breathing pattern, position, or skin temperature.3 In fact, the Mimo can tell if the baby is sleeping on his or her front or back and parents can use the device as a live audio monitor.

So how is Mimo part of the IoT? Well, the integrated sensor (which Mimo calls the Turtle), sends information about the baby’s breathing, position, sleep activity, and skin temperature to a receiver (which Mimo calls the Lilypad). The Lilypad streams data and live audio to the cloud where it is then accessed by a smartphone. Gone are the days of a walkie-talkie-style baby monitor; now we can all access real-time data about our babies!

A great example of an IoT device for adults is the BodyGuardian Heart Remote Monitoring System, which wirelessly collects real-time data about cardiac arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation, tachycardia, bradycardia, pause, and others.4 This small sensor can be discretely worn and programmed with thresholds for each patient, allowing for individualized monitoring and care plan support. Ultimately, this device allows practitioners to access their patients’ data and review notifications securely anytime, anywhere via the web through a secure portal.

Photos courtesy Preventice Services

What about the non-medical examples that Gross predicted? Well, I’ve been using a smart outlet for months, and I am hooked! Smart outlets are commercially available from companies like Belkin, whose WeMo allows you to instantly turn on and off any plugged-in device from across the world or just your living room via a smartphone app.5 The devices not only save money and conserve energy over time by eliminating standby power, they provide data about the power usage of any device which can, in turn, be used to help increase its operating lifespan through more efficient use and scheduling.

Furthermore, with WeMo, users can access IFTTT, an app that lets you create powerful connections with one simple statement: “If this, then that.” Using almost any data source on the web to act as a WeMo trigger, users can create customized automation rules and schedules to fit their personal preferences. For example, users can turn off the lights in their apartment by saying “Siri, lights please,” lights can be turned off by sending a text message, or someone can build a trigger to open the pet door for the dog at sunrise or shut off the lights and close the electric blinds in the office whenever the computer is turned off.6

Other companies have systems that can monitor and automatically water plants remotely using connected sensors, alert municipal services when a trash bin needs to be emptied, or notify authorities when a fire extinguisher is blocked, missing from its designated location or its pressure falls below safe operating levels. The potential for integrating the IoT into our daily workflow is limitless!

Next: Safety concerns >>

 

As we adopt and integrate sensors into our daily workflow, however, we must also be cognizant of security concerns associated with these newly connected devices. A chilling exposé in Forbes featured the story of an Internet-connected baby monitor made by China-based Foscam. A hacker took advantage of a weakness in the camera’s software that allowed him to not only view someone’s baby through the web, but also yell obscenities at the sleeping child.7 The engineers/hackers featured in the article state that customers need to be aware that technology evolves rapidly and that they need to be doing updates regularly to stay safe. So, while many of these sensors and solutions are plug-and-play, it does not mean set-and-forget. Our devices and the programs we use to control them need to be regularly updated. And when purchasing devices, it’s important to register the device with the manufacturer so that you will receive alerts about necessary product updates.

In 2010, McKinsey & Company correctly predicted 6 distinct types of emerging IoT applications, which fell into 2 broad categories: information/analysis and automation/control.8 These categories affect our daily life at almost every turn. We are consumers of IoT devices, we depend on sensor-derived data, and we benefit from smart device integration. The Internet of Things has been around longer than it has had a name and it’s hard to imagine life without IoT connectivity.

 

References

1. International Telecommunication Union. Recommendation ITU-T Y.2060, June 2012. http://handle.itu.int/11.1002/1000/11559-en?locatt=format:pdf&auth

2. Gross N. The earth will don an electronic skin. http://www.businessweek.com/1999/99_35/b3644024.htm. Accessed October 22, 2015.

3. Mimo. http://mimobaby.com. Accessed October 15, 2015.

4. BodyGuardian heart monitoring system. http://www.preventicesolutions.com/services/body-guardian-heart.html. Accessed October 15, 2015.

5. WeMo home automation. http://www.belkin.com/us/Products/home-automation/c/wemo-home-automation/. Accessed October 15, 2015.

6. WeMo Maker. http://www.belkin.com/us/F7C043-Belkin/p/P-F7C043;jsessionid=D946C790CD0E2160F8047B98D4BF1954/. Accessed October 15, 2015.

7. Hill K. The half-baked security of our 'internet of things.’ http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/05/27/article-may-scare-you-away-from-internet-of-things/. Accessed October 15, 2015.

8. McKinsey & Company. The internet of things. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/the_internet_of_things. Accessed October 15, 2015.