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The Emergence of the 'Internet Of Medical Things'

03/11/2015 09:00 am ET | Updated May 11, 2015

Twenty years ago, when the Internet and portable cellular devices were first becoming commonplace, most people never considered how these technologies could be used to deliver healthcare.

Ten years ago, when the Internet had already become ubiquitous and smartphones were still in their early days, people began to ask if and how these technologies were going to change healthcare.

Today, the Internet is so integral to our lives that it's considered a utility. The smartphones in our pockets have access to more information than Bill Clinton had during his presidency. And we are at the point where both doctors and patients agree that smart devices will transform healthcare.

After all, technology already touches every aspect of our life. Let's think for a moment about the number of smart Internet-connected devices that we use each day, whether for work, leisure, research, etc. The obvious items that come to mind are our smartphones, computers and tablets. But upon closer examination, many of us also have Internet-connectivity built into our TVs, cars, home appliances, fitness trackers, home security systems and medical devices. This emergence of Internet-connected devices is commonly referred to as "The Internet of Things" (IoT).

In regard to healthcare, there are infinite ways in which IoT tools can be used to improve patient care -- and it's happening sooner than you might think. In the past few years, we've seen the emergence of connected medical devices such as smart heart rate monitors, blood pressure cuffs, glucometers, asthma inhalers, thermometers and pill bottles. Let's call this "The Internet of Medical Things" (IoMT).

I recently gave a TEDMED Talk at the TEDMED conference about this very topic. My main point is that smart medical devices must be incredibly easy for patients to use in order to facilitate mass adoption. This is a simple and important notion, yet it is too often ignored within the IoMT.

Allow me to explain what I mean with a hypothetical example: George wants a new TV. If he buys a smart TV, he will certainly invest some time and effort to set it up and learn how to use it. But if George is given a new smart pill bottle by his doctor or pharmacist, chances are he won't put forth nearly as much effort to set up and use the bottle. Simply put, this difference occurs because most people care more about consumer electronics than medical devices.

This is why it's so important to build smart medical devices that can be used by patients without any setup or learning curve. At AdhereTech, this notion has guided every design and user experience feature that we have built into our smart pill bottles. We have even distilled this philosophy into three design principles, which we refer to each day:

  1. The device must work the moment the patient gets it, with no setup, no assembly, no downloads and no syncing required.
  2. The device should be used in the exact same way as the regular non-connected version of the device, so it's simple for the user.
  3. The battery in the device should last for as long as possible -- ideally multiple months -- without needing to be recharged.

In my TEDMED Talk, I elaborate on how we have accomplished these feats. Today, I'd also like to point out that these principles are not exclusive to the medical field. In fact, they are very relevant to the development of most IoT devices. Next time you use any smart connected device, please think about its required setup, ease-of-use and battery life. Then consider about how much better the product would be if even one of these factors were improved.

The IoT will soon become as ubiquitous as the Internet itself, and the IoMT has the potential to transform the way in which healthcare is delivered. Patients will be the group that ultimately decides which devices will be adopted, so we must always remember to design these tools for patients above all else.

This blog post is part of a series on the future of health and technology produced by the editors of HuffPost ImpactX in conjunction with the world premiere of the trailer for documentary 'Detected,' produced by Ironbound Films, in partnership with Cisco. The trailer will debut on March 16 at the SXSW Music and Film Festival in Austin, TX. For more information about 'Detected,' click here. To see all the other posts in the series, click here

Cisco sponsors The Huffington Post's Impact X section.