How smart devices support doctors and nurses in everyday life

The Internet of Things (IoT) holds enormous potential for the health care system. But what is the Internet of Things? A guest article by Chief Editor at

IoT is a collective term for technologies that network physical and virtual objects and make them work together through information and communication technologies. Real things provide their own status information for further processing in the network.

In healthcare, real or physical objects can be medical or technical equipment, medicines, patients or hospital equipment. These are mapped virtually, networked. By means of sensors, conditions such as temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate or even workload and whereabouts are recorded or triggered by actuators or actions, such as medication.

The basis for IoT is a secure infrastructure

But before thinking in the direction of modern technologies such as IoT, the foundation must first be laid. And this is still lacking in most German hospitals at present. Outdated IT infrastructures and the lack of compatibility or interoperability of existing IT solutions are major obstacles to the implementation of IoT projects.

Hospital initiatives often fail because of budget constraints: German hospitals spend on average only about one to two percent of their turnover on IT. Other countries invest more in technological progress, including the Netherlands and the USA, for example. The result is a massive investment backlog that makes it difficult to modernize the outdated infrastructure: negative in many respects – firstly, for digitization and the use of modern technologies in general, and secondly, a major security risk arises.

A modern hospital data center is the basis for a secure infrastructure and the use of advanced technologies. And this investment pays off in the long run: The Internet of Things offers the possibility of organizing and automating processes, procedures and treatments more efficiently, thereby saving enormous costs and time – and relieving the tight hospital budgets.

What app scenarios for IoT arise in hospitals?

The hospital of the future is digital. Today, much is still documented, recorded and entered into a physical patient file by hand, but the electronic patient file is coming along in huge strides. The big challenge is to integrate medical devices such as mobile CTs, MRIs, ultrasound equipment and vital signs monitoring systems into the network and connect them to the computer center so that the recorded data can be transferred to the patient file. Currently, numerous manual actions are still required for this.

Up to now, medical equipment has been part of the building services sector, which is often detached from the data center and represents a separate area. If these devices are securely embedded in the infrastructure, the work of doctors and nursing staff can be enormously simplified and optimized.

Wearables will prevent heart attacks in the future

Another promising scenario in the IoT environment is so-called wearables – small, mobile computer systems that are worn on the body, such as fitness trackers, smartwatches or, in the medical field, hearing aids, pacemakers or computer-controlled implants. Doctors, therapists, health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies see great potential here. Possible application scenarios are, on the one hand, prevention, since wearables can record the wearer’s data around the clock and thus report and prevent diseases. In the future, for example, a heart attack could be detected by the system integrated into the clothing and the emergency call could be initiated directly.

But the rehabilitation and medication sectors could also benefit, for example with intelligent knee bandages that monitor and record the execution of exercises or patches for administering medication in a specific dosage. The wearables environment in particular offers an almost inexhaustible potential for innovation – the new Apple Watch, for example, is even supposed to have an odour sensor.