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What is the Internet of Bodies (IoB)? Using Biometrics to Power Future Healthcare

Biometric Post
Jul 7, 2023
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Biometric Post
What is the Internet of Bodies (IoB)? Using Biometrics to Power Future Healthcare

There is no stopping digital transformation.  In its sure and steady advance, it has permeated almost every aspect of modern life including healthcare, which has now been taken to a whole new plane of efficiency, accessibility, and personalization.

Already, doctors can pull up electronic patient records anytime, anywhere. With remote medical consultations, the boring wait at the doctor’s office is now a thing of the past.  Wearables now exist that can monitor your vital signs and alert you of potential troubles before they become emergencies.

Taking it even further is the so-called Internet of Bodies, or the (IoB), one of the more exciting technologies to come out of this intersection of digitalization, biometrics, and healthcare.

What is the Internet of Bodies (IoB)?

The IoB refers to the interconnected network of wearable devices, implantable sensors, and other biometric technology that can collect physiological or behavioral data on the human body and share it with healthcare providers. These data can include vital signs, movements, sleep patterns, brain activity, and more. Clearly, it has the potential to revolutionize healthcare, wellness, and human performance.

By collecting real-time data on a person's health and behaviors, the IoB can detect anomalies at their very earliest stages thereby giving doctors an unprecedented ability to nip disorders in the bud. Moreover, IoB also helps compliance and prognosis as it empowers patients to track their own health and wellness, optimize their performance, and enhance their quality of life.

Real-World Use Cases of the Internet of Bodies

The IoB is already showing tremendous potential to upend the way we think about healthcare, offering new opportunities for preventative care, remote monitoring, and personalized medicine. Here are a few actual use cases:

Vital sign monitoring: IoB devices are excellent at collecting biometric data such as heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation, to monitor patient health in real-time. These capabilities enable healthcare providers to detect and respond to changes in a patient's condition more quickly. For example, connected pacemakers or continuous glucose monitor (CGM) device implanted on a patient can give doctors the real-time data they need to make lifesaving decisions.

Wearable devices like Fitbit and the Apple Watch can monitor heart rate and other vital signs, providing users with real-time feedback on their health. IoB devices are also useful to patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, as they can automatically and remotely alert healthcare providers if there are any worrisome changes in vital signs.

Behavioral biometrics: Aside from physiological data, IoB devices can also collect information on a patient's behavior, such as their gait or typing patterns, which may indicate changes in mental or physical health. For example, even slight changes in a person's gait could be an early symptom of Parkinson's disease. While imperceptible to human eye, IoB devices can easily detect these and make the necessary alerts. Researchers at the Michigan State University have developed an app that employs smartphone sensors to track a patient's gait and evaluate speech patterns to detect early signs of cognitive decline.

Cancer patients are now benefiting from a digital chemotherapy pill  that combines chemotherapy drugs with a sensor that captures physiological data and shares them with oncologists to give them a better picture of compliance and outcomes. 

Smart contact lenses are being equipped with sensors and chips that can

monitor health data based on data from the eye and eye fluid. One such smart contact lens in development samples eye fluids to monitor glucose levels, freeing diabetics repeated pinpricks throughout the day.

A non-medical use of IoB is access control where a chip the size of a grain of rice is implanted on the hand which can access doors, log into devices, make payments, all by simply waving the hand. 

Ethical, Privacy, and Regulatory Concerns of the Internet of Bodies  

Like many emergent technologies, the IoB is attended by a handful of thorny issues surrounding ethics and privacy.

Just who owns the data collected by IoB devices — is it the patient, the healthcare provider, or the company that developed the technology? Do patients retain sole rights to the data, or do they implicitly cede the rights to its use over to the healthcare provider or the developer?

By way of illustration, an IoB wearable that monitors health data could very well also detect unhealthy behaviors, the reporting of which could result in health insurance companies denying coverage. A connected hearing aid could do be a godsend for a partially deaf patient but could also be recording all sounds within earshot. What happens if such data leaks?

Moreover, IoB data can also be misused to discriminate against certain persons in employment or insurance, as it can reveal sensitive information about a person's health and well-being.

Biometric data is highly personal and sensitive, and the potential for it to be misused or hacked cannot be overlooked. The risk of identity theft and fraud is yet another issue, as biometric data can be used to authenticate identity and access sensitive information.

To calm these concerns, patients must be reassured that they have full control over their data, and that it is only shared with healthcare providers and other authorized parties with their explicit consent. Patients need to be apprised exactly how their biometric data is being collected, used, and shared, and should be given a chance to opt-out at will.

Policymakers and healthcare providers must work hand-in-glove to develop clear guidelines and regulations around the collection, use, and sharing of biometric data.

Regulation of the Internet of Bodies

Yet this could take some time. In the US, there is a lack of a single entity to any provide meaningful governance for the new technology, despite the FDA and the US Dept of Commerce appearing  o be the de jure regulators. Currently, regulation is still being carried out through ad hoc efforts of state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and consumer advocacy groups.

Even as the FDA is making serious headway in cybersecurity of medical devices, many IoB devices, especially those available for consumer use, do not fall in the ambit of FDA. While federal and state officials have begun to address cybersecurity risks associated with IoB that are beyond FDA oversight, but there are few laws that mandate cybersecurity best practices.

Clearly, the creation of an oversight and regulation body for IoB should be a top legislative agenda.

The Internet of Bodies is Set to Be Widely Adopted

The mainstreaming of IoB is only a matter of time. The technology’s potential benefits in healthcare are too great to ignore, despite the pitfalls. Biometric technology can seriously improve patient outcomes, reduce healthcare costs, and create a more personalized and preventative approach to healthcare.

It is imperative to find that path where the power of IoB is leveraged while still respecting patients' privacy and agency over their data.


Biometrics in Healthcare: More Than Just Security

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Biometrics in Healthcare: More Than Just Security

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