- We’re entering the era of the “Internet of Bodies”: collecting our physical data via a range of devices that can be implanted, swallowed or worn.
- The result is a huge amount of health-related data that could improve human wellbeing around the world, and prove crucial in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
- But a number of risks and challenges must be addressed to realize the potential of this technology, from privacy issues to practical hurdles.
In the special wards of Shanghai’s Public Health Clinical Center, nurses use smart thermometers to check the temperatures of COVID-19 patients. Each person’s temperature is recorded with a sensor, reducing the risk of infection through contact, and the data is sent to an observation dashboard. An abnormal result triggers an alert to medical staff, who can then intervene promptly. The gathered data also allows medics to analyse trends over time.
The smart thermometers are designed by VivaLNK, a Silicon-Valley based startup, and are a powerful example of the many digital products and services that are revolutionizing healthcare. After the Internet of Things, which transformed the way we live, travel and work by connecting everyday objects to the Internet, it’s now time for the Internet of Bodies. This means collecting our physical data via devices that can be implanted, swallowed or simply worn, generating huge amounts of health-related information.
Some of these solutions, such as fitness trackers, are an extension of the Internet of Things. But because the Internet of Bodies centres on the human body and health, it also raises its own specific set of opportunities and challenges, from privacy issues to legal and ethical questions.
Image: McKinsey & Company
Connecting our bodies
As futuristic as the Internet of Bodies may seem, many people are already connected to it through wearable devices. The smartwatch segment alone has grown into a $13 billion market by 2018, and is projected to increase another 32% to $18 billion by 2021. Smart toothbrushes and even hairbrushes can also let people track patterns in their personal care and behaviour.
For health professionals, the Internet of Bodies opens the gate to a new era of effective monitoring and treatment.
In 2017, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration approved the first use of digital pills in the United States.