The internet of things is a term that was coined almost two decades ago, specifically with a goal of promoting RFID technology. However, the phrase has since skyrocketed in use throughout almost every technological vertical. Consumer fitness wearables, home automation, industrial asset monitoring — you name it, an example of IoT use and innovation can be thought of in virtually every industry. All things considered, healthcare is one industry seeing the greatest impact from the internet of things — often referred to as the internet of healthcare things or IoHT. In fact, IoHT has created an entirely new category of connected health devices that marry the regulated world of medical devices with the ease and accessibility of consumer health wearables. The impact of connected healthcare devices on IoT infrastructure is happening fast — much faster than in other industries affected by IoT.
How fast? Well, within the next four years the healthcare sector is projected to be number one in the top 10 industries for IoT app development. To put a dollar figure on how fast this industrial change is happening, the value of IoHT is projected to reach $163 billion by 2020, with a compound annual growth rate of 38.1% since 2015. Putting it into even clearer perspective, it took the telephone more than 45 years to earn a place in the majority of American homes, but connected healthcare devices made it into the majority of American homes within just 15 years — three times as fast as the telephone.
Compared to the quickly expanding and ever-innovating world of IoHT, the “regular” tech world is basically a dinosaur — a Macintosh 128K, if you will. However, just like the original Apple Macintosh, the decades of lessons learned and wisdom earned from the original world of technology can help guide this newly expanding world of innovation. There are five vital lessons that the world of IoHT can learn from the many successes and failures of early adopters of IT, IoT and beyond.
1. Look beyond the trends — IoHT needs to serve a real need
As we’ve seen time and time again in the tech and IT worlds, technological fads and flashy digital trends are exciting, but often fleeting. While everyone loves a cool or nice-to-have feature, what really constitutes a successful innovation is the ability to offer a tangible solution to a clear pain point.
IoHT’s focus on assisting ideas such as disease prevention through constant monitoring is a great example of developers using innovation to serve a real need within the industry. Devices such as wearable temperature trackers, ear-worn vital sign monitors, smart pillboxes and more are all technologically advanced connected devices that could help improve a patient’s quality of life, or even save their life in the long run, but be sure there’s a clear pain and an unmet need.
2. Understand the economics
A strong correlation along with addressing a high pain point to achieve success is understanding the economics, especially when the person benefiting from a technology may not be the one directly paying for it. When a wearable medical device is sold directly to consumers, then the same person benefiting can be the one paying. However, if that same device is sold through providers, then there needs to be an economic benefit to the doctors prescribing it, and the willingness for insurance companies to pay for it.
Too often, we see new technologies chasing what ends up being hypothetical problems due to a lack of understanding and addressing the economics.
3. The bigger the slower
As we learned from the days of IT, new technology adoption moves slow. It took SaaS over a decade to penetrate corporate IT. Prior to that, all software was installed and managed on premises.
There is a direct relationship between the size of an organization and the speed with which it changes — the bigger, the slower. It’s easy to blame that on organizational politics, budget controls and status quo, but there is also good reason for a slow-moving big company.
Like enterprise IT, healthcare organizations have entrenched and complex systems where making even a small change in one area can greatly affect other areas. Also, a decade-long proven technology or system is predictable if nothing else, even if highly inefficient. What drives big companies to change are business needs. These can include cost reduction, a new problem to solve or keeping up with competition. Sometimes, but rarely, you’ll see a visionary executive leading the charge to change before there may be an obvious need to.
4. It’s crucial to balance innovation with security
If the everyday consumer is afraid of having their personal Facebook password stolen, imagine when their medical information is being hacked and used for malicious activity. One of the biggest challenges facing health technology advancement is figuring out how to strike a balance between having a patient’s information readily accessible to all necessary healthcare providers while also protecting it from anyone not authorized to view the information. As with any rapidly growing and ever-changing industry, the next big development often proves more exciting than ensuring the security of the last. The resolution of security and privacy issues is arguably just as important, if not more, to the continued success of IoHT as the development of new abilities.
However, security in IoHT is not much different that security in all aspects of the IT and internet world — it’s crucial that each party, including the patient, developer, doctors and hospitals, understands its role to proactively prevent vulnerabilities. For example, the developer needs to implement security measures such as HIPAA compliance while the patient needs to be sensible when creating and storing passwords.
5. Not your father’s IT
One major difference to understand about the internet of X things is that it extends far beyond the borders of traditional corporate IT — both organizationally and technically. In the world of corporate IT, network computing systems were largely controlled by the IT department and rolled out to the rest of the organization. It was generally a single function that had the budget and decision power under the office of the CIO and/or VP of IT, albeit with collaboration with finance.
With Io[X]T, decision, budget and systems control may fall under multiple functions such as IT, operations and manufacturing. It is important to understand the various technical requirements bridging disparate systems, as well as the organizational dynamics that determine budget and decision power.
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