A guide to healthcare IoT possibilities and obstacles
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One aspect of the Internet of Things (IoT) that hasn't gotten a lot of public attention is how this network of devices might someday have a positive effect on hospital workflows.
Rasu Shrestha, M.D. -- chief innovation officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) -- foresees the day when Mrs. Smith, the patient currently in Room A-20, might be the ultimate recipient of IoT in healthcare.
For clinicians, Shrestha said, there's a need to devise more intelligent ways to aggregate data across all patient devices, assimilate it and make the data available to everyone within the workflow of the care of that patient.
"So we might be interacting with our clinical information systems, we might be rounding on our patients, [or] we might actually be seeing Mrs. Smith, whose data I actually have access to," Shrestha said. "So how do I get an intelligent, condensed view of all of the activities that Mrs. Smith has been going through over the last six months to a year? Then, for Mrs. Smith, how do we make sure that we're able to integrate some of the capabilities of these devices into the things that she does on a day-to-day basis?"
For example, if Mrs. Smith needs to communicate with her care provider concerning a certain event -- maybe one of her sensors started beeping while she was at home because it crossed a threshold set up ahead of time -- that could be an opportunity to send an alert to a provider, which could then trigger a phone call and an interaction between Mrs. Smith and her caregivers.
"Managing the workflow intelligently around all of the devices that are part of the Internet of Things, I think that's something that needs to be thought through a lot more thoroughly than where things are now," Shrestha said.
Poor data accuracy defies IoT in healthcare
From Shrestha's seat, workflow is one of many challenges ahead before healthcare IoT can be fully realized.
Poor data management is one of those obstacles.
"Today [there] isn't really that much of a standard around how data is being captured, and the accuracy of the information … may not be as accurate as we might hope for it to be."
Rasu Shresthachief innovation officer, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Furthermore, lack of interoperability only adds more barriers to capturing data and making sure information is accurate. With dozens, if not hundreds, of different device manufacturers -- all of which may have different standards and communication capabilities -- it is a challenge ensuring that these devices can "talk to each other," Shrestha said. And it's not only a matter of simply talking to each other, but also sending "the right messages in the way that the smart grids and the networks that we're trying to create would actually understand and have that level of interoperability," Shrestha said.
He added that it's up to organizations to step up and take charge when it comes to data management and interoperability between multiple devices. Healthcare IT professionals need to work to create the right level of communication protocols among the disparate services that exist out in the marketplace -- not just within clinical information systems, but across all types of devices and equipment -- in order for IoT in healthcare to become more widespread, Shrestha said.
IoT adds to hospital network risks
Privacy and security challenges also exist when it comes to IoT in healthcare. Shrestha explained that within healthcare organizations there are already many different devices on the same network.
IoT will add an extra layer of complications because "you're also dealing with networks that are well outside of the secure networks that we typically have created in our healthcare facilities," he said, such as having a medical device connected to home networks, public Wi-Fi, or cellular signals, and feeding information back to a hospital's network. All of those outlying networks "may not be as protected as we need for it to be in healthcare," Shrestha said.
"There has to be deeper levels of security parameters that we put in place -- deeper levels of audit trails and other types of security, envelopes, a mesh of security," he added.
Learn more about IoT in healthcare:
The main benefit of healthcare IoT? Patient satisfaction
IoT is steadily colonizing healthcare
Video: Emerging IoT technologies in healthcare