Sean Gulliford, Head of Connected Devices, Gemserv

IMAGINE a world in which you never run out of milk because your fridge reorders it for you automatically or where don’t have to water the garden because your smart sprinkler assesses the weather and switches itself on when needed.

That world isn’t too far away thanks to the “internet of things” (IoT), a concept whereby not just computers but myriad devices are connected to each other to swap information.  As well as the potential to help run your household more efficiently, the advent of IoT will also have major implications for the healthcare sector.

In hospitals, data about a patient’s condition will be relayed to doctors, nurses, family members and others involved in their care in real-time, allowing for more accurate diagnosis, speedier treatment and faster recovery. That data could also be used by medical researchers to better understand diseases and by regulators to monitor the safe operation of hospitals. It’s not just patient data that will play a role either; in the same way as your fridge could reorder milk, the hospital’s pharmacy could reorder drugs to stop them running out. IoT technology can also be used to enhance monitoring and automation of buildings to cut energy consumption across healthcare facilities which could make a significant contribution to Ireland achieving its targets for a 30% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels by 2030 and to hit ‘net zero’ by 2050.

At home, remote monitoring of patients means they can be discharged more quickly from hospitals, lowering the threat from infections and freeing up much-needed beds. As well as monitoring patients’ recoveries, those same sensors could play a role in preventing diseases – if your Fitbit data can be read by your general practitioner then perhaps you’ll take more exercise or cut down on junk food. With an ageing population, remote monitoring will also allow older people to live independently at home, while their doctor keeps an eye on them.

Combining health data with smart meter readings and information from smart lighting could allow family members to follow their elderly relatives’ daily routines in a non-intrusive manner, with artificial intelligence (AI) flagging up any deviations from their normal habits to indicate a fall or an illness. Allowing older people to live independently for longer will not only improve their quality of life but will ease pressure on care homes, hospitals and other public infrastructure.

Yet all the advantages of integrating the IoT into healthcare bring with them questions over sharing data. Standards need to be agreed so data can be shared with those who need it, whether they’re doctors, medical researchers or regulators, and even across sectors, with IoT devices linked in hospitals, homes and other locations. That data must be categorised so only relevant people get access to relevant information. And patients must understand how their data will be used, allowing them to give informed consent, with security and privacy built-in from the very start.

Only then will the better sharing of data lead to the better caring for patients. To explore these issues in greater depth, take a look at our latest thought leadership paper, “Health, IoT and why sharing is caring”, at