IoT in Healthcare: Overcoming Barriers to Adopting the Next Generation

Abhinav Shashank
Tue 12 Dec 2017
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Internet of Things or IoT has made quite a name in the healthcare industry and there are endless opportunities for its application in the same. In an earlier blog, “Internet of Things: The Digital Future of Value-based Care”, we discussed the significance of IoT in making the care delivery process more efficient and automated.

Bringing digital technology to the healthcare market has both human and financial value. It is predicted that the internet of things will drive the digital transformation in healthcare. Mobility and cloud will tremendously help increase accessibility for patients and physicians alike. Storing medical records in the cloud will enable patients to access their test results online. So to answer the question..

Why should healthcare go digital?

The life-saving applications of mobile devices today are gradually coming into light. Now, mobile devices as small as cell phones can perform ECGs, DIY blood tests, or serve as a thermometer. Through automation, patients can even be prompted to check their weight, pulse, or oxygen levels, and enter results into mobile patient portals. They can transmit the results to their physicians in real time. Those details, when entered regularly, can help predict one’s risk for heart disease and other illnesses, ultimately saving lives.

Also called the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), the tech enables mobile and wearable devices to be increasingly connected. These devices then work together to create a cohesive medical report accessible anywhere by the providers. This data is not only useful for the patient, but can be pooled together to study and predict healthcare trends for entire cultures and countries.

What are some of the challenges?

As the healthcare industry has been increasingly getting more access to consumer data than ever before, health organizations are facing significant, but not insurmountable, challenges in managing, interpreting and protecting patient data. In the previous blog, we briefly talked about the more obvious challenges to adopting IoT in healthcare such as storing, managing and securing data. The lack of EHR integration is another barrier to overcome. The reliability and security issues with data along with interoperability and a lack of training and infrastructure among providers because even when data does flow freely, many providers lack the infrastructure and know-how to access it.

The next tier of the problem lies among the populations that can benefit most from IoT; poor internet access among vulnerable populations including the elderly, those with low education levels, lower-income populations, rural residents, and minorities. Let us now get to talking about overcoming these obstacles that the industry is currently struggling with.

Overcoming these challenges

Interoperability of disparate data sources must be tackled with as more and more devices become connected and need to communicate with each other. As patient data comes in, health systems should have the infrastructure, resources, and processes in place to extract actionable insights from it that caregivers can use. Finally, as cyber attacks are becoming a growing threat, health systems and their partners must ensure the protection of their networks by investing in viable features and capabilities.

Since IoT devices capture and transmit data in real-time, the infrastructure to receive and process and store this data from millions of devices should be designed and built for scale. However, most IoT devices that report health care data suffer from lack of data standards or protocols.

Security and privacy of patient data

Privacy and security concerns are slowing the progress for IoT to take over the sector and prove its potential. Healthcare is a highly regulated industry and requires everything to be secure and safe because patient information has to remain protected at any cost. However, security breaches still run rampant in many parts of the country.

It is mandatory to meet the compliance requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). When it comes to IoT, compliance is also required of app developers, hosting service providers, cloud computing service providers and basically anyone, including subcontractors, involved in the healthcare space who might have access to electronic patient health information (ePHI). Therefore, no industry is more focused on virtualization security right now than health care.

How can patient data be secured? Interestingly, many of the organizations that suffered breaches demonstrated a failure of proper controls over physical devices. Keeping physical devices under control is critical for gaining the confidence of patients in the use of IoT in healthcare. Providers, their associates, and vendor partners have a responsibility to ensure protocols are in place and their employees are trained to follow them.

Lack of uniformity among connected mobile devices

The problem is that there are no common standards or communication protocols to facilitate the process of aggregating information from them. The proliferation of connected health and activity devices that many of us now use makes it easy to see why a lack of interoperability is a huge obstacle to progress. Health systems should maintain at least some common standard for the type of devices kept in their facility. It should be done to facilitate smoother transmission of data for quicker insights.

Vulnerable data transmissions

Ensuring connectivity is an important factor for IoT in healthcare. Data transmissions between devices, or between a device and the cloud have to be speedy and continuous. Furthermore, they should have the capacity to host a great amount of devices connections at the same time. Also, maintaining quality and speed of transmissions is also a key factor for IoT functioning.

To overcome these challenges, the development of 5G technology is already underway. The other challenge is to make IoT sensors collect data even if there are troubles with the network. Also, an IoT system should be able to notify you whenever a component is disconnected, so the physicians know at every moment what’s going on and if the system is working properly.

Patient readiness

A non-technical, but significant factor is patient consent in adopting IoT. Patients are often confused about the introduction of new technology in a sector like healthcare and may be unwilling to take to it. Physicians too may have their inhibitions about the same. Therefore, to overcome this challenge, patients need to be made aware of the potential benefits of IoT in healthcare. In a world that’s slowly but steadily transitioning into a digitally-driven society, the applications of IoT are immense.

Awareness about IoTs

Understanding IoT from the consumer’s perspective is not an easy task. As the uses for the IoTs are expanding and changing, there needs to be widespread awareness about them in the entire country. Only through constant push and promotion by healthcare authorities, physicians, care teams and patients can this come about.

Analysis Paralysis

The overflow of massive amounts of data can lead to analysis paralysis. It means that it can be mind-boggling to go over every piece of information presented in the data. Extracting insights from data for analysis is the last stage of IoT implementation, and it has to be driven by cognitive technologies. Hospitals and health systems have a responsibility to ensure that the platform they opt for is capable of molding according to their requirements.

Future of IoT in healthcare

The future of IoT in healthcare looks promising for there are good reasons to think the sector will overcome the obstacles and progress even if at a slower pace than the commercial sector. Therefore, we know for a fact that while progress might be slow, the obstacles can be overcome. The key to the growth of IoT is the same for healthcare, as it is for any other industry. It is the ability to filter through truckloads of data and quickly determine what is relevant and what is not, and thereby present the resulting information in a meaningful way, to the right person, at the right time.

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Tags: Healthcare, Patient Engagement, Physician Engagement
Abhinav Shashank
IoT in Healthcare: Overcoming Barriers to Adopting the Next Generation

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