The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is a subsection of the more well-known Internet of Things. Broadly, the IoMT is a connected infrastructure of medical devices, software applications, and health systems and services. This infrastructure aims to improve accessibility of healthcare, while improving patient health and satisfaction with healthcare services. In 2016, it was predicted that by the year 2020, 40% of IoT technology will be health related1 (more than any other subsection). It has also been predicted that by 2022, the IoMT market will be worth roughly US$158 billion2, compared to a comparatively measly US$24 billion in 20163. We at Reddie & Grose have been closely following the progress of the IoMT which encompasses many rapidly advancing technologies and a number of potentially patentable areas.
Recent development of smart devices and sensors has seen both their cost and size decrease whilst improving their connectivity. With this, areas of the healthcare industry are being targeted for applications of the IoMT ranging from industry-wide data exchange to quality of life improvements for individual patients in their homes. Simple examples of such technology come in the form of the Apple Watch® and Fitbit® smartwatches. Thanks to improved algorithms, both are able to collect a large amount of accurate data from a user including blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns and step count. This data can be sent to mobile phone applications, but the distribution of this collected data to a wider network, such as to hospital systems and healthcare professionals, is somewhat lacking. However, Apple® has recently obtained FDA approval for the Apple Watch® 4 smartwatch, signifying healthcare as a direction of interest for this tech giant.
Expanding the connectivity of smart devices to healthcare networks allows efficient communications within hospitals, as well as communication with patients and other healthcare professionals externally. This wide-area sharing of medical information would help to optimise productivity in healthcare at a time when a lot of the healthcare industry is struggling for time and money.
Successful applications of the IoMT include remote monitoring of patients with chronic or long-term conditions. Wearable devices can collect medical data from a patient and distribute the information to the relevant caregivers, as well as monitoring a patient’s activity. Such remote monitoring (termed “telemedicine”) would appear to be an important aspect of medicine with life expectancy of the population continuing to rise, likely increasing the number of patients with long-term health conditions. It’s clear that telemedicine can save health services a great deal of time and money if implemented correctly. Such telemedicine also allows patients to feel better connected to their care team, while feeling more confident in handling their care plans. A particular application which has seen significant development is glucose monitoring in diabetes patients, a condition which affects around 9% of the UK adult population4.
These trends in development have influenced further innovation. For example, smart pills are being developed which use sensors to detect when a pill has been taken by their interaction with the body. The pill then transmits a message to a patch on a patient’s skin which subsequently connects to an app such that patients (or others) are able to monitor medication intake. Medication adherence is a common issue and is a particular concern for patients with dementia and mental illness. This technology allows a healthcare professional to ensure medication is taken properly. Another interesting example of the IoMT is a device implantable into an artery which monitors pressure and relays information to external devices such that patients or healthcare professionals may be alerted to early signs of a stroke.
The list of potential applications of the IoMT is vast, too long for this author to attempt to recite, but it is easy to see the potential benefits. Imagine a seamless hospital experience including appointment booking, the ability to check waiting times, parking payments, check in, patient medical data being taken, data being transferred between departments instantaneously, medicine being prescribed, medicine intake being monitored, and continued remote monitoring of the patient, all using the IoMT and including aspects accessible by your smart device.
However, while the IoMT is being used in practice in a limited number of applications, barriers exist which are preventing the implementation of a lot of aspects of the IoMT. Implementing any medical equipment into practice requires lengthy testing and regulatory approval, particularly where technology will entirely replace a step or process performed by a healthcare professional. In addition, the initial cost to implement a lot of this technology will be substantial, including costs for software, hardware, IT infrastructure and support, and indeed the costs for staff training arising due to the current lack of IoT across healthcare organisations. Such costs are difficult for already hard-pressed public health services to justify when evidence of the long-term advantages and benefits of IoMT is in relatively short supply. What is more, in an age where cybersecurity and protection of data is at the forefront of public concern, the large scale storage and transfer of patients’ data needs serious consideration.
Despite this, the barriers to entry are by no means insurmountable and, with increasing development of the IoMT, the health industry will no doubt see the substantial benefits of implementing such technology.
With such promising growth, patent protection for inventions in this field could prove highly valuable, and the wide range of components forming an IoMT network presents various potentially patentable areas. It would appear only a matter of time before the Internet of Medical Things becomes a significant aspect of healthcare services, meaning the need for intellectual property rights is important. We at Reddie & Grose have substantial experience working with both medical devices and the IoT. This space also provides for inventions that lie on the border of patentability such as computer or software based inventions and our team has particular expertise in this area. If you would like more information regarding patenting inventions in this field, please contact a member of the medical device team.
1 – Bauer H, Patel M, Veira J. The Internet of Things: sizing up the opportunity [Internet] New York (NY): McKinsey & Company; c2016. [cited at 2016 Jul 1].
2 – https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/Life-Sciences-Health-Care/gx-lshc-medtech-iomt-brochure.pdf
4 – https://www.gov.uk/government/news/38-million-people-in-england-now-have-diabetes
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.