If the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is truly to become a reality, sensors will be an important part of the equation.Both doctors and the people they treat already have access to a vast amount of health data, a situation unheard of a decade ago. But the data can’t be trusted if the sensors aren’t accurate, reliable and sturdy enough to withstand different environments and unpredictable scenarios, according to Jen Gilburg, senior director of strategy for sensor solutions at TE Connectivity.
Medical Design & Outsourcing recently reached out to Gilburg for some answers on the role sensors have to play in the evolution of IoMT.
MDO: How new is the idea of an Internet of Medical Things? Tells us a bit about the history. How close are we to seeing it become a reality?
Gilburg: We can say at least since 2007 the term has been around, but it really has gained focus around 2010. … Additionally, as we looked to take some costs out of healthcare and as more of the IoT infrastructure (from SDKs to cloud services) became available, the Internet of Medical Things idea has really taken hold. By 2015, the FDA had cleared over 100 mobile apps for medical use which provides an example of the steady pace it has been evolving.
With our aging population, increased rates of diabetes, asthma and other chronic diseases, IoMT has a lot of utility in remote patient monitoring and telemedicine. Many use cases are in production today including applications for heart, blood pressure, EKG monitoring and glucose monitoring.
MDO: How does the move toward IoMT affect the type of sensors TE Connectivity needs to supply?
Gilburg: TE Connectivity (TE) has a broad portfolio of sensors targeting healthcare applications. For example, TE provides temperature and pressure sensors for minimally invasive catheters that can be used in applications that measure pressure from a pulmonary artery, and through the OEMs solution, feed data back to a mobile device for constant home monitoring. We also provide sensor technology in fitness trackers … used more broadly in preventative healthcare.
MDO: What are the top technical challenges that need to be addressed when it comes to IoMT and sensors?
Gilburg: The top technical challenge is ensuring the device is secure, meaning, a rogue application cannot take control of the sensor for nefarious purposes and/or ensuring the data coming to and form the sensor has not been corrupted by a malicious attack. Standards for communication and authentication need to be considered, as well. Additionally, the packaging of the sensor needs to be ruggedized to maintain integrity when exposed to harsh fluids or conditions. Lastly, there are regulatory, compliance and liability hurdles.
MDO: What are the top things that medical device creators need to consider when selecting a sensor for an IoMT purpose?
Gilburg: When selecting a sensor for an IoMT application, one of the main considerations is confirming the sensor can maintain calibration over the duration of the use case (e.g. ranges do not ‘float’ and become inaccurate). Another consideration is ensuring your sensor vendor has a broad array of sensor types for the variety of use cases you would like to develop including different ranges within the sensor (e.g. ultra-low pressure, low pressure, medium pressure, etc.). The sensor packaging also needs to be able to withstand the harsh conditions (bodily fluids, temperature fluctuations, etc.) of respective use cases.
MDO: How might the IoMT transform healthcare? Why is it important?
Gilburg: Early stories have shown that active management of chronic diseases via many of the IoMT monitoring applications, coupled with sensors, have been successful. Additionally, AI can reduce admittance rates, which in turn reduces costs, and improve clinical outcomes. According to Forbes, the medical IoT market is estimated to be a $117 billion market by next year.