Internet of Things. That’s the buzzword going around these days. When one says “IoT,” what falls in that category? Refrigerators that tell you when you need milk, or that your car is parked in the garage? What else? What if your body would be a part of the Internet? That’s exactly what one leading manufacturer of devices for chronic pain coping therapies is doing.
Their devices in question provide chronic pain coping therapy by sending small, highly-tailored electrical pulses directly into the spinal column. These are used in addition to, or preferably instead of, traditional opioid or other pain relief medications. The intention of these devices and therapies is to reduce or eliminate dependency on medications and increase the patient’s quality of life. These devices are implanted inside the patient’s body and electrodes are placed inside the spinal column to provide the therapy.
But every person has a different type of pain; therefore the placement of electrodes varies. After the device is implanted, the patient will resume their daily life and manage their pain as needed using the device and a radio frequency based remote control. During their daily routines and movements, the placement of the electrodes in the patient’s spinal column can shift. Also, as the patient is weaned off pain medications, other areas of pain, previously suppressed due to medication, might show up. Due to these reasons, the effectiveness of the therapy will decline and the device has to be updated to continue providing pain relief. Effectiveness declines, and patient compliance may diminish also.
So where does IoT come into play?
The current generation of devices lack network connectivity. Hence, patients and device programmers need to be physically co-located in a doctor’s office for performing updates. In certain geographies with lower populations, device programmers and patients might need to travel for several hours, requiring weeks of planning and scheduling. From the patient’s perspective, they would need to travel hours while in pain and under medication. Data collection also happens as the programmer updates the device. Considering updates don’t happen frequently, a lot of data is collected from the device and may take significant time to complete before the update is done. This often results in the programmer manually cancelling the data transfer to reduce the time required of the patient, losing the benefit of collecting data to improve outcomes. This also significantly limits the number of patients that can be assisted with updates to their devices.
For the next generation of devices, Bluetooth communication will be added and the device will be able to communicate with a smartphone and receive updates, as well as send usage data to the device manufacturer. This will provide remote programming capability to their patients, allowing them the convenience of staying in their own home and receiving updates for their devices. This will also allow collection of usage data directly from the device daily, driving creation of pain management offerings and plans custom fit to the patient’s needs.
So the next time you read about IoT, don’t be surprised to see the human body in the list of different “things.” Where we go from here is anybody’s guess. One could measure vital signs of the human body directly using such implants and allow a much faster diagnosis and treatment of issues, even before symptoms are visible to the doctor or the patient themselves.
This just might be the first step to creating a collective intelligence!