The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the growth of sensors and things that connect to the Internet via RFID, Bluetooth, ZigBee and satellite, for example. By 2020 it is estimated that 20–50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. Many of these devices will be collecting health data or will be connected to health and medical devices in the home, the hospital or the wider environment. Many of these devices can be implanted in the body or worn in clothing to monitor vital signs or essential biological processes that enable more-continuous monitoring of patients or even animal health.
The growth of the Internet of things is likely to open new disruptive business opportunities for services that add value to the data collected. It will involve supply chain management, disease management for chronic diseases, public health services in areas such as air quality or the traceability of products in the food chain for food safety.
The Internet of things is also an important growth activity in the EU and China, for example, where numerous public-private partnerships have emerged and there are more university research programs exploring the potential for the sensors and the IoT to provide more-efficient health care delivery channels. We are likely to see a blurring of the boundaries between consumer electronics and medical devices as more opportunities in this space emerge and more companies focus on the growing global health care market.
In order for the IoT to make major headway in the health arena, several important policy issues will need to be addressed in the near future: Who owns the data? How is privacy understood in diverse cultural contexts where sensors may become far more ubiquitous and offer new means to invade the privacy of the home? How can the extensive data collected from the IoT provide value to more people so that data is more widely shared? And ultimately, how will health be understood within the context of a more ubiquitous computing environment, and what risks and opportunities will emerge?
This paper provides a preliminary overview of the landscape of opportunities and drivers in the current health and health care environments and highlights some of the challenges that remain.