Realizing the full potential of internet of things in healthcare

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Achieving the Promise of More Efficiency and Better Outcomes

With rapid gains in device connectivity, mobility and analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT) space has received significant attention over the last few years. According to Gartner, 8.4 billion connected things, a diverse amalgamation of devices, sensors and software, were in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016, and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020.1 What’s more, a report by Verizon2 asserted that the healthcare industry saw an 11 percent increase in IoT connections in 2017 over 2016. With its potential to connect people around the world using healthcare applications over intelligent networks, it is quickly being referred to collectively as the “Internet of Healthy Things”. As healthcare organizations strive to optimize their workflows and improve outcomes, IoT holds great promise for helping overcome current inefficiencies and extract more return from infrastructure investments.

Make Security and Integration Top Priorities
Most major technology trends that have emerged in the last 25 years, from cloud computing to artificial intelligence (AI) to big data and analytics, have experienced constant innovation to overcome the barriers for wide-scale adoption. IoT is no different. For example, security remains a top concern for solution providers as well as healthcare organizations and consumers, given the explosive growth in the number of connected devices and their limited processing capabilities for countering security attacks. Using rigorous security design principles, healthcare organizations must implement the latest measures across their IoT infrastructures, such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), double encryption and device-level security protocols.

Data integration with legacy healthcare systems, and interoperability in general, is also of critical concern, and data standardization is key to success. IoT standards are evolving quickly for hardware specifications, communication protocols, application program interfaces (APIs) and more, which will bring tremendous technical and business benefits.

While security and integration challenges are still to be addressed, healthcare continues to be among the top five industries investing in IoT. McKinsey Global Institute values the societal benefits of IoT in healthcare at more than $500 billion per year, by 2025.3 The time is ripe for healthcare organizations and medical technology companies to invest in IoT, and find sustainable solutions to security and integration challenges.

Providers Connect with Patients Like Never Before
Healthcare providers have already accelerated adoption of cloud and big data technologies, which positions them well to start experimenting with IoT. From smart facilities to home care, providers can incorporate connected devices into patient care workflows in a variety of ways. For example, smart facilities, where sensors are embedded within the infrastructure (lobbies, floors, patient rooms, etc.), use IoT to track patient location and even wirelessly monitor patient vital signs within intensive care units. Having a sensor network inside buildings also enables staff and equipment locating and scheduling, dynamic workflow routing to guide physicians and other care team members to the appropriate patient at the right time, and monitoring of prescription drug inventory.

Using IoT devices to passively collect patient-generated health data has the potential to fill in the blanks in electronic health record (EHR) systems, monitor patient progress at home after discharge, and generate documentation related to specific episodes of care. Add to that video conferencing via smart phones and recorded patient consultations that can be incorporated into the EHR.

Payers Proactively Connect with Members for Better Health
IoT also offers benefits to payer organizations toward improving population health, increasing patient engagement and awareness, and reducing healthcare costs. Connected consumer health monitoring devices enable preventive and remote care, for the elderly population and patients with chronic diseases. Using medication adherence and lifestyle data, payers can design more effective reward and retention programs. At the same time, real-time health data and analytics can generate notifications and reminders that not only promote positive lifestyle changes, but also prevent emergent events.

In addition to engaging individual patients, payers can aggregate and predict trends using population health data collected through payer-supplied or third-party consumer devices, such as activity monitors and vital signs measurement devices. For example, data generated along with predictive analytics tools could help payers and public health organizations improve responses to regional epidemics.

Infrastructure is Key to Pulling IoT Together
With the unprecedented amount of data that will be generated, healthcare organizations need robust analytics solutions to go with the right cloud-based IoT platform, for effective event-processing and actionable intelligence. Managing the data generated by multiple ‘things’ require scalable storage and powerful analytics using streaming data. While healthcare organizations start on their IoT journey, they will also need to address issues around data ownership and consumer consent.

While industries such as retail and supply chain are actively adopting these technologies, healthcare is likely to be a significant participant in this space. The value to healthcare organizations is immense. The myriad devices that make up IoT have the potential to transform care delivery by providing new insights into patient and consumer behavior, allowing organizations to enhance service delivery, offer new products and fuel innovation.

Mahesh Dedhia is a Sr. Product Manager for CitiusTech.

1 “Gartner Says 8.4 Billion Connected ‘Things’ Will Be in Use in 2017, Up 31% From 2016,” Gartner Press Release, February 7, 2017.
2 Verizon State of the Market: Internet of Things 2017 report.
3 “The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype,” report by McKinsey Global Institute, June 2015.

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