Scope of medical IoT spotted in connected colostomy bag launch

A connected colostomy bag crossed Riot’s news desk this week, called the Ostom-i and made by 11 Health, using sensors from Flexpoint. But while colostomy bags are hardly our usual kettle of fish, the numbers including in the release struck us – claiming that the market for these connected bags was set to hit $3.4bn by 2021.

This got us thinking about the wider connected medical device market, which is slowly embracing the kinds of IoT technologies that enable better patient monitoring, and ultimately, an improved quality of life for these patients.

The Ostom-i alert sensor uses Bluetooth to send data from a sensor that connects to a patient’s ostomy bag, which monitors how full the bag is to ensure it doesn’t overflow. Some 750,000 Americans apparently live with an ostomy bag.

So while the ostomy bag market might be small, we began looking for a sense of the bigger picture for IoT devices in connected healthcare, prompted by a conversation we had at the CEVA booth at MWC last week – where a WiFi-connected patient sensor caught our eye, in a market that CEVA thinks could hit 5bn units.

Valuations of the IoT healthcare market vary from $90bn to $150bn by 2020. This uncertainty can be attributed to the speed at which regulators and the wider health care community are willing to accept and spend money on such devices. IoT adoption in healthcare is going to be slower than in other verticals because of the amount of red-tape.

But it is a huge and captive market. In the US, around 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition, and over 36% of Medicare beneficiaries have four or more chronic conditions. Monitoring these cases and keeping up with growing patient demand, are some of the largest challenges facing healthcare practitioners today, with far-reaching societal impact.

These IoT technologies provide a solution for patient monitoring, improving outcomes whilst cutting the cost of the healthcare system. Broadly put, the goal for these connected systems is to spot a problem early, where it can be fixed much more affordably – correcting a heart murmur or high blood pressure before they require a trip to the emergency room and an extensive stay in hospital. It’s very comparable to the industrial sector’s fascination with predictive maintenance.

At Mobile World Congress last week HMicro displayed its WiPoint Biosensor Patch, a WiFi-enabled patch designed to replace wires that connect patients to hospital machines. The Biosensor patch contains CEVA’s RivieraWaves Sense WiFi IP integrated into its HMicro developed RF/analog and other technologies including Ultra WideBand (UWB) and Medical Band (MB) radios.

The sensor is aimed at replacing those currently used in electrocardiogram sensors (ECG), the process by which an individuals’ heart rate respiration and pulse-oximetry are monitored. The product has a battery life of up to 5 days and a wireless connection range of up to 25 meters.

CEVA the manufactures of the chip HMicro is using in the device thinks this is a 5bn-unt market, if hospital move to wireless connections. However, getting the market for wireless medical sensors to that point could prove challenging. The FDA has to asses and approve any device that uses RF spectrum inside a hospital.

These new market entrants represent a shift in perspective from the IoT healthcare products, introduced by established market players. Philips’ CareSensus system turns the home into a network of motion sensors to record a patient’s movement throughout the day. However, many find the surveillance uncomfortable, and would prefer a solution that didn’t involve spying on their relatives.

For patient monitoring, systems that don’t rely on devices worn by the patient are preferred, as anyone who has dealt with trying to convince a relative to wear their fall-monitoring pendant can testify. In the coming years, a balance will have to be struck between the healthcare industry and its insurance providers on one side, and the patients on the other, when it comes to how much private medical data and general privacy needs to be exchanged for healthcare services – a very touchy subject for many people.

For those in the business of manufacturing the sorts of devices needed to keep a closer eye on patients, the expected growth in the market is a huge opportunity for device shipments – encompassing both hospitals and medical facilities, as well as patients’ homes.