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IoT for healthcare: Three use cases

IoT for healthcare still has a long way to go. However, one CIO believes it will have a massive impact, especially in three areas.

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.

Neal Ganguly, VP and CIO at JFK Health System, CHIME FellowNeal Ganguly

"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."

Next Steps

Healthcare IoT security risks and what to do about them

The FDA is cracking down on IoT medical device security

IoT devices cause security and management worries in healthcare 

Health CIOs: Think cybersecurity, White House CIO says

This was last published in April 2016

Essential Guide

A guide to healthcare IoT possibilities and obstacles

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Interesting views, but I still see hurdles ahead. I have worked in distribution and manufacturing for years. I can see holes in ways to get around the systems we had in place. Technology has advanced but so has the level of threats to steal products and data.
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I’m struck that Mr. Ganguly’s remarks are generally forward-focused, suggesting that organizations are only now “looking at ways” to integrate fit-bit, home-based monitors, etc. CareCentra has done this many times for clients, along with interfacing medication-based IoT devices and determining care gaps with their Patient Journey Map. It is true of course, that some networks are more enlightened than others, and it’s these advanced groups who are employing technology to overcome such challenges as MACRA and QRUR now to ensure they benefit financially from CMS’s changing rules.
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What I am also curious is to what they mean by collecting data from in-home medical devices. Am I supposed to give up my network info so they can have access to my information? Also I still see too many networks with no security at all. Does this mean somebody on the outside could invade my network and take control of the device or manipulate the data ?? How do we prevent this?? It still goes on today with unsecured networks when just about everyone on the planet knows it should be password secured. And use a strong password, not 12345.
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Todd, You raise some of the very questions that are holding many organizations back from advancing. IoT is often cited as a security risk because it adds new nodes (though that doesn’t necessarily have to create risk.) But let me address your points in order:

• “What they mean by collecting data from in-home medical devices”. Data from scales, blood pressure cuffs, web-enabled medication dispensers, etc. is sent to a separate, secure data warehouse/lake. This might normally create risk, but in CareCentra’s case, this data is not just encrypted; it’s de-identified, then re-identified. And you would not be ‘giving up your data’; you control it as much as you do now; some clients want this device information sent to their EHR, some don’t.
• Security vulnerabilities, and bad external actors invading your network – As you write, it’s a risk if you have inadequate security. I am personally not a security expert, but I can say that our [very discerning] clients have vetted and approved CareCentra’s data transfer method, and that the de/re-identification utility was developed specifically to address this concern.
• Re: Users who create vulnerabilities by using PWs like 12345 – beyond enforcing strong passwords, good luck with that one; we all know it takes just one careless user to ruin a day.

Finally, IoT is not an end in itself, but plays a support role as hospitals figure out how to transition from fee-for-service to value-based-care. Any ‘investment’ should first be directed at improving quality scores, increasing revenues, and reducing cost. IoT is just a tool to help you get there.

Conrad Lenckos
847 729-3468
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All these seem like good ideas. For patient data though, it would require a centralized data file per patient, with all health history, allergies, complications, risks, effective medications, etc..
If Healthcare is government run, like in Canada, it is at least theoretically possible.
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