No Connection, No Protection: Dependable Connectivity Is Critical In Care Settings

By Paul Craig, Head of IoT at OV (www.worldov.com)

From intelligent care planning and monitoring systems to the very latest health and well- being devices – new innovations are changing the very nature of care and paving the way for us to reimagine provision. Many ground-breaking care technology solutions involve the Internet of Things (IoT), which describes a network of objects, installed with sensors or software, that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems. IoT solutions depend on connectivity to work, be it data through a mobile network or Wi-Fi, so when investing in technology, patient safety depends on care providers building a highly reliable connectivity infrastructure.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for connected IoT devices accelerated across many industries, perhaps none more so than care. Devices such as glucose and heart rate monitors typically connect to a 2G, 3G, or 4G network via SIM cards – like the ones we use in our phones – and automatically collect health metrics on the patient.

The introduction of lockdowns and social distancing has led to an increase in carers working alone, and therefore a rise in demand for wearable IoT devices that can protect unaccompanied staff while helping them to monitor residents. Staff can wear devices, that look like a watch, but feature an emergency button. So, if there is a high-risk situation involving either themselves or a resident, the employee can quickly call for assistance. The device will send an alert to either a colleague or the emergency services – depending on the individual settings.

Similar wearable devices can also be used to monitor residents’ heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure remotely. Using these sensors means key markers can automatically be recorded throughout the day, and if anything changes a carer will be notified in real-time.

Voice control technology can also be used in wearable devices or equipment placed in residents’ rooms. This provides voice connectivity which means if a resident has an emergency and cannot move to press a panic button, they can shout out, and the device will send an alert to a chosen contact.

These IoT devices help to streamline care services and enable workers to provide the best care possible to their residents – the result is person-centric, outcomes focussed care, that puts patients, carers, and families in control. But this can only happen when the device is connected to a live network.

When someone’s health, or safety, is reliant on the connectivity of such devices, avoiding network outages is vital. Connectivity providers that operate using a single network pose a risk, as there is no immediate backup if their service goes down, making it paramount that care providers opt for multi-network SIM connectivity. Multi-network providers work with an ecosystem of partners, so if one mobile network drops out, the multi-network provider can immediately tap into another network and continue providing connectivity to the SIM installed in the IoT device.

Wi-Fi is often the go-to route to connectivity, but due to the size of many care sites, there is a risk that there will be black spots, or weak signals due to the number of devices connected. Staff aren’t just confined to care homes either, carers working in the community need constant connectivity. So, if providers opt to use SIMs that tap into multiple networks, connectivity becomes seamless no matter the setting or location.

The UK’s population is ageing, and as life expectancy continues to climb, more and more patients will require care. Technological advances may help us find new ways of providing care to meet this demand, whether it be using IoT wearable devices to improve care outcomes and maximise the use of staff time or using connected devices in domiciliary care settings to allow people to keep living at home.

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