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The Brave New World of Health-Care IoT Is Enticing—But Proceed With Caution

Defining limits enables companies to get the most out of the Internet of Things.
By Kristina Podnar
Apr 21, 2019

The Internet of Things (IoT) may be the biggest buzzword in digital since the mainstream introduction of the Web browser in 1993. Throughout the past several years, businesses have added intelligent controls to traditional products, such as refrigerators, soda machines, washers and dryers. We live in an era in which more connectivity is the norm, and it is not hard to find examples of IoT connectivity. Just consider:

Agriculture: In the agricultural industry, farmers are increasing productivity and decreasing costs with IoT tractors that not only drive themselves, but use algorithms to calculate the best routing based on things like the number of vehicles, vehicle turn radius and so forth.

Education: In education, IoT devices enable task-based learning. Instead of listening to one-size-fits-all lectures, students work at their own pace via connected devices (for example, performing a virtual dissection), and the devices notify teachers when students need extra guidance. And wearable devices take over the more tedious tasks, like taking attendance and recording absences.

Industrial production: In industrial environments, IoT devices can aid in scheduling and reduce downtime by combining historical records with real-time data to predict breakdowns and schedule preventive maintenance.

While connected things are commonplace, the final frontier seems to be connecting the IoT as part of humans to provide streamlined health care. What will happen when the first business decides to use injectables to connect a human body directly to a health insurance provider as a means of delivering discounted insurance rates? Or perhaps live-streaming data to a doctor's office about how long it takes a patient to digest a particular medicine, given RFID tracking and the connected device capability?

It might sound far-fetched, but it is not. Just take a look at one small slice of the health-care IoT pie: ingestibles. Doctors at the University of Minnesota Health and Fairview Health recently announced that they're treating a small group of cancer patients with "digital medicine." It is a chemotherapy pill that includes a sensor to let patients and their doctors monitor their dosage, to make sure they're taking their medicine when they're supposed to.

The question we should be asking is "Just because we can, does that mean we should?" Should we face this brand-new frontier, embrace it and ride the IoT wave? Or should we tap the breaks and consider how such products could cause harm? Let's look at a few of the harms that could stem from ingestibles.

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