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Hype and uncertainty surround IoT in healthcare

Technology has made life easier for physicians, but can there be too much? That could be determined as IoT in healthcare starts to catch on.

The role of the Internet of Things (IoT) in healthcare has grown to the point where it was the subject of educational sessions at the health IT industry's mega-conference, HIMSS 2015. The varied applications of IoT in healthcare involve the use of popular technology topics such as big data, cloud, predictive analytics and machine learning. But those subjects cover only part of how the Internet of Things can be deployed; it holds the potential to enrich the healthcare industry and other vertical markets.

Where the IoT trend is heading and how organizations can prepare for, evaluate and apply it in healthcare are issues that have yet to be settled. Health IT departments are under enough pressure without adding the unknown ramifications of deploying a new technology such as IoT without first defining a business strategy.

Technology has been a valuable tool for physicians, allowing them to manage patient data, access it from their mobile devices and share it with care teams. The introduction of mobile technology such as smartphones, tablets and wearable devices has provided both patients and providers with new tools to access during and after a care episode.

Cost-effective Internet of Things devices

There has been a recent push in healthcare for small, low-maintenance, cost-effective devices to collect health data. The Raspberry Pi 2, MinnowBoard MAX and Galileo are development boards that can be added to devices to allow them to connect to sensors and capture information, crunch data with processors and then transmit that data to a number of destinations, including cloud-based data repositories.

Many available IoT devices run on free operating systems. This open architecture encourages innovation and creativity among developers and opens the door for those on tight budgets to find a product that fits their needs at an acceptable price. Microsoft recently put its support behind this trend by introducing Windows 10 IoT Core, which offers developers a kernel through which they can innovate and alter IoT-enabled devices.

IoT in healthcare accessories under development

A number of accessories have already been developed for IoT in healthcare. The e-Health Sensor Shield tech kit, made by Cooking Hacks, offers software to support capture of vital data such as pulse, oxygen in the blood, body temperature, airflow, galvanic skin response and blood pressure. The kit, compatible with several IoT devices, is an example of the value of IoT in healthcare.

Healthcare IT executives are aware that IoT can be used to collect data useful to clinicians. Having the option to send patients home with a small device to monitor their conditions and recovery is likely to be widely adopted and funded by either hospitals or payers. But the use of IoT in healthcare is not limited to capturing patient data; it also offers hospital IT departments opportunities to gain insights to other areas in the hospital.

IoT's future depends on maximizing benefits

Several hospitals have already adopted some form of IoT to track the location of assets, as well as collect other data elements such as temperature in areas where it is critical to stay in a certain temperature range.

Some technology analysts, however, consider IoT a disruptive technology and are concerned with its level of data security and its ability to meet healthcare compliance requirements, such as those regulated by the FDA. The future of IoT in healthcare may hinge on resolving those concerns and maximizing IoT's core benefits, such as immediacy, transparency and price point.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story. email editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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This was last published in May 2015

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In what other ways do you think the Internet of Things will be used in healthcare?
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As someone who works in technology, I'll be the first one to say that not all problems can or should be solved by technology. But there are still many things that technology can make more efficient. 
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