Real-world applications of the online and Internet of Things (IoT) revolutions are still in their nascent stages, but are coming to the healthcare and public safety sectors in more ways than one. The IoT has long shown promise for improving public safety and health thanks to its ability of improving the efficiency and accuracy of current processes. Advances are quickly being made in relevant IoT applications, such as GPS-mapping technology, wearable tech, and smart objects, but new opportunities and applications arise even faster than we’re able to integrate them into our systems.
As with many other major technological innovations such as big data and blockchain, advancements in the IoT often move more quickly than we’re able to keep up with. Innovators are working to apply this valuable technology to our current infrastructure of processes, but are also faced with the unique challenge of ensuring the safety and security of users. Let’s explore some of the innovations of the IoT revolution that impact our health and safety.
Remote Medical Care
One result of the ubiquity surrounding technology in the context of skyrocketing healthcare costs is the growth of remote medical care. From general medicine to specialized care in fields like dermatology, patients can now seek more affordable and accessible treatment for certain conditions from the comfort of their homes. Wearables and other complementary IoT technology can aid remote treatment, improving patient comfort and accessibility to medical services (particularly for those with limited mobility or those who intend to age in place).
For example, counselors, psychiatrists, and social workers have begun utilizing telemedicine and tele-counseling resources more frequently, as the costs of healthcare (especially for mental and psychological health) continue to steadily rise and become prohibitive for most Americans.
For clients who are well-aware of their thinking patterns, talk therapy has become a thing of the past. Individuals in need of counseling services but can't afford them or easily access a therapist can now access newer or more advanced therapies online (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), whereas before they would have been limited to online resources lacking the quality of treatment and authority that qualified counselors and therapists provide.
Wearables capable of monitoring, recording, and relaying data about patient health will continue to open up more remote treatment opportunities in the near future. Wearables improve both patients’ awareness of their own health and doctor’s ability to assess and treat patient conditions. Automated monitoring and reporting of health data can further alleviate issues more common in remote medicine, like inconsistencies or inaccuracies in patient disclosure of medical information.
Smart Hospitals and Wearables
IoT innovations are being applied in plenty of opportunities for treatment outside of the home. Hospitals and treatment centers across the country are going “smart” and integrating the IoT into operations in a variety of applications that improve patient care.
Some of these applications include “smart beds” capable of detecting patient activity, adjusting to patient needs, and wearables like Brightly- a bladder-monitoring wearable that reminds users to regularly use the bathroom. Wearables and other smart objects provide a wealth of data to researchers in medical fields like predictive medicine. Data gathered from wearables can be integrated with the research techniques used in predictive medicine, which currently rely primarily on genetic evidence.
IoT in Social Work and Public Safety
The IoT’s role in public welfare isn’t limited to medicine. Increased connectivity thanks to the IoT can lead to improvements in both personal and public safety. Our changing world presents new challenges for those involved with public safety concerns. In fields like social work and law enforcement, IoT applications are quickly emerging to support the evolving needs of the public and work of those that serve it.
The recent uptick in natural disasters stemming from the alleged amplification of climate change has called for more social workers specializing in assisting natural disaster victims with resources after natural disasters that wipe out entire cities. The IoT may be utilized in critical first response efforts through technology like Bluetooth Low Energy (also referred to as Smart Bluetooth), which can make it possible to send text-based communications without internet or cell phone services in instances like the ones mentioned.
Community outreach (including policing and rebuilding) is also crucial to rehabilitation efforts after disaster events. Modern challenges have increased the need for professionals working in public safety and law enforcement who are aware of the complex socioeconomic and cultural needs for the different cities, communities, and regions impacted by natural disasters. The IoT can be applied in ways that support public safety officials and workers, like field operation devices to assist firefighters in search-and-rescue operations.
The IoT can also be applied in preventive efforts that support public safety, such as predictive policing applications. Predictive policing solutions now use data like weather patterns, public transit movements, social media activity, and gunshot sensors to improve the situational awareness of law enforcement. They can also provide real-time data about incidents, preventing them from further escalation. Devices like the wearable personal safety device Revolar would allow users to contact loved ones or law enforcement officials in unsafe situations with the push of a button.
Improving Safety for IoT Applications
With all of these opportunities come risks. The FBI released a public service announcement in early September cautioning the potential of public safety threats in regards to the IoT. The bureau cites concerns that criminals will exploit vulnerabilities in IoT devices and lack of consumer security awareness. Main risks cited by the FBI include criminal interference with business transactions; identity, credit card, and data theft; digital eavesdropping; overloading devices to render them unusable; and even compromising devices to cause physical harm.
Further concerns arise due to deep integration of computing technology and the IoT in our transportation systems, utility grids, and communication systems. Because of our reliance on these systems and capabilities, interference from cybercriminals could have catastrophic consequences for our basic infrastructure.
Companies utilizing IoT in their products and services have an important role in the protection of both users and the public at large. Lack of consumer awareness surrounding IoT vulnerabilities is a big challenge for cybersecurity analysts and developers, since cybercriminals actively work against security measures as quickly as they’re developed. Users can take some protective measures, but most don’t have enough technical understanding of the technology to prevent crimes against them. In fact, technology accelerates so quickly that even many industry experts struggle to meet safety demands.
Despite these challenges, it’s essential that steps are taken to improve security measures. Intrusion and device tampering detection technologies are being developed to support safety efforts for the IoT at large, as many users are not currently able to tell when their data has been compromised. In the medical field specifically, the FDA has worked to improve the regulation of IoT devices like medical wearables, and is now developing a rule that all medical devices come with their own unique device identifier that’s readable by both humans and machines.
We continuously discover more ways to use the IoT to improve public safety and health. The IoT can improve the accessibility and affordability of medical treatment, optimize response and recovery efforts after public safety disasters, and help improve personal safety. Integrating security in these devices is critical to ensuring they function as intended. While we have yet to see widespread adoption of the versatile applications IoT in the healthcare and public safety sectors, but there’s no denying that it’s picking up speed.