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How are IoT sensors and Microsoft Azure improving patient care?

How are IoT sensors and Microsoft Azure improving patient care?
The Covid-19 pandemic highlights how innovative tech can improve healthcare

Elly Yates-Roberts |

We may be poised for a revolution in how we think about healthcare. With the Covid-19 virus having spread around the globe, one can argue that the world is more collectively focused on healthcare solutions than it has been at any other point in modern history. And while this intensified focus primarily revolves around how to slow the spread of the virus, what might help in treating it, and the race to establish a vaccine, it has also led to some consideration of artificial intelligence-driven patient care.

For example, Microsoft’s recent collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a Covid-19 Assessment bot relies on AI to better handle potential patients. The bot can assess users’ symptoms, recommend next steps and track the patients who are most in need of urgent care, so that limited resources can be allocated accordingly.

Hopefully, this resource proves to be useful in the USA, where efforts to contain the virus have so far been insufficient. Beyond this specific matter, however, it’s possible that the worldwide battle against Covid-19 will lead to a greater consideration of how people can monitor their health and enjoy better care. From managing specific conditions to spotting worrying symptoms, there are already a lot of possibilities that have come about via Microsoft Azure-driven internet of things (IoT) sensors that are already being deployed in patient care. 

Managing chronic disease
Some of the most direct applications of Azure-driven IoT sensors to date have come about in an effort to better monitor patients with chronic diseases. These might include issues like heart disease or diabetes, and in both cases there are now specific devices that use Azure to report vital data.

According to a Microsoft Azure blog post by healthcare IoT advisor Sally Frank, a New York-based company called Peerbridge Health has developed a wearable electrocardiogram that can be worn for seven days. It tracks every heartbeat during that time in an effort to spot irregularities or warning signs in at-risk patients and uses the Azure cloud to record the data. Similarly, Sensoria Health has partnered with Microsoft to create a smart boot that can help to ease foot pain for diabetics, and gather data in the process.  

These are just two examples, but they demonstrate how IoT-integrated sensors are already changing things for people with common chronic diseases.

Patient monitoring
Patient monitoring can take various forms. In some cases, it can occur through basic wearable bands and watches. However, thanks in part to some improvements in the design of electronic components, we’re starting to see an evolution in some cases toward IoT-connected implants for patient monitoring.

The tech improvements come first and foremost in the form of more adaptable printed circuit board (PCB) design. Altium’s breakdown of the types of PCBs that are being made today makes clear that design software has become more versatile. It can now facilitate PCBs that are “adaptable to any design requirements” – which include the unique needs of tiny, biomedical devices. Implanted IoT sensors can be small and oddly shaped, but as PCBs have evolved to suit the devices, we’re seeing those devices being put to use. Accordingly, a platform like Microsoft Azure can now support an actual implanted piece of technology that can monitor patients’ health, from blood pressure, to blood sugar levels, and so on.

Personalised medicine
IoT-based healthcare efforts don’t necessarily have to be targeted at monitoring chronic conditions or everyday vitals (or signs of infectious disease like Covid-19, for that matter).

For example, Microsoft’s Genomics service is designed to gather data and take into account “the individual complexities of a patient’s history, physiology and genetics” so that medical management can be customised. It’s not as specific an example, but it may in fact represent the future of healthcare, to some degree.

These techniques and applications demonstrate a number of ways in which sensors, IoT technology, and cloud platforms are revolutionising healthcare. And as the world considers healthcare more carefully, and sees some related methods easing into aspects of the global response to Covid-19, it’s conceivable that we could be in the early stages of significant advancement in these areas.

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