A guide to healthcare IoT possibilities and obstacles
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Although the Internet of Things in healthcare is not yet in widespread use throughout the industry, Indranil "Neal" Ganguly predicts that, in the next five years, there will be a massive increase in IoT for healthcare, "both on the clinical side as well as on the back end."
"We're seeing this rapid scaling of these technologies, as the size of the devices and the price of the devices are declining so rapidly, the ideas for how to deploy them are also increasing," Ganguly, vice president and CIO at JFK Health System in Edison, N.J., said. "I think it's going to radically change how we think about tracking activity and be able to actually measure it and actually then look at real data in terms of how we implement process improvement type initiatives."
Ganguly explained how hospitals are using, or could use, IoT for healthcare in three areas: inventory management, workflow optimization and device integration.
IoT for inventory management
Hospitals are not using IoT to track inventory in as widespread a manner as would be desirable, Ganguly said. He added that healthcare could learn a few lessons from retail.
"Hospitals are trying to learn from retail in how to deploy those tools and integrate them with [their] ERP solutions on the back end," he said.
For hospitals, the big advantage they can glean from IoT inventory management will be in areas like pharmacy and overall inventory control in warehouses.
"I think we're going to see that increase over the next few years dramatically, but in general, hospitals are just scratching the surface with IoT," Ganguly said.
IoT for healthcare workflow optimization
Although the concept of RFID has been out there for 5 to 10 years, Ganguly said adoption of this technology hasn't taken hold as rapidly as he would like.
"I think the price point of the devices coming down dramatically [and] the increasing reliability of the wireless infrastructure are two of the things that are going to help drive this," Ganguly said. "So I think it's more of a timing issue than it is doing it better. It's just really building the awareness and making the value proposition more clear to the hospitals."
Ganguly explained that by using the wireless infrastructure and tag devices such as wrist bands and ID badges, hospitals can manage throughput.
"And more than just manage throughput," Ganguly added. IoT will allow hospitals to also, "analyze throughput to understand where bottlenecks exist and then work through how to resolve those bottlenecks and then really see the results of that kind of analysis delivering value much more rapidly than the old fashioned time studies and things we used to do in the past."
IoT for medical device integration
Ganguly said that when it comes to IoT for medical device integration, the focus is more on the consumer end.
"People are looking at how to integrate things like the Fitbits and other fitness devices to bring patient provided data into the cycle of care delivery," Ganguly said.
Ganguly added that JFK Health System is looking into glucometers, blood pressure cuffs and other devices that can collect data and statistics on vital signs of patients. The expectation is, Ganguly said, that this will "allow us to collect that data in a more automated fashion and apply some decision support rules to that to allow us to intervene on the patients earlier in the process."
There is an opportunity now to do more with in-home medical devices, he said, because there are more devices that are enabled to work on a wireless network.
"We're also just beginning to scratch the surface there in integrating those devices to collect the data directly into the EMR [electronic medical record], giving us at least some improvement for the clinicians in terms of workflow and ease of documentation," Ganguly said.
Handling all the data IoT will bring
Hospitals already struggle to handle data, and there's so much more data that isn't being utilized, Ganguly said. The solution to this problem will be "smart people, realizing the types of data we have and finding ways to mine that data more effectively."
For example, the role of the data scientist is something that already exists in larger healthcare systems today, and now there's more of a need for that skill set.
"I think that when we look at what the Internet of Things can bring in terms of another massive wave of data, it can be overwhelming," Ganguly said. "But as long as we stay focused on initial use cases, we'll see early value. Then it's going to be up to us as an industry to find ways to add more depth to that and really mine that data for increasing value to the industry and to the patients as a whole."
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