The Challenges of IoT in Healthcare

Posted by Ulker Guluzadeh on Aug 16, 2016 10:32:38 AM

In my post on the Digital Healthcare Landscape, I discussed how technology is changing the ways in which the healthcare industry diagnoses, monitors, and treats patients. Today, I’d like to address some of the big challenges and risks involved in the industry, to give a better understanding of why digital transformation in this space can seem like a daunting undertaking for many companies.

The reasons for innovating are clear. Automating the full cycle of healthcare with the help of connected devices can provide better consistency and quality, which can lower costs, reduce readmissions and improve the patient experience.

Taking digital health innovations to market can be challenging for a variety of reasons. The business case and value must be proven out, funding secured, and then the real test of building the product begins. At this stage, the biggest hurdle is often meeting regulatory  compliance within the industry. Most regulations are enforced by the FDA and HIPAA, with rigorous standards for developing mobile devices and applications, and securing data. The following considerations arise from connecting the new generation of devices to a create network of highly-sensitive, personal data. 

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Security: Vulnerable Data Transmissions

The main concern for regulatory bodies and users alike is, of course, the security of personal health information (PHI) that is stored and transmitted by the connected devices. Strict access controls are required not only for privacy concerns, but also to ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations. While many healthcare institutions ensure that sensitive data is stored in a secure and encrypted manner, institutions don’t always have control over the safety of the personal mobile devices used as data access points, or the security of the data during actual transmission. This creates a significant threat that grows proportionally to the number of new devices that are connected to the network.

Simultaneously, it’s difficult to ensure the security of each and every device and data access point without sacrificing the user experience or detracting from the value provided by the device and the application. Not to mention the cost and resource considerations associated with doing so. Then, there's always the so-called “human factor.” Maintaining the security of the PHI if either the patient’s or the physician’s mobile device is stolen or lost is a challenge that extends beyond the scope of the IoT network, but is nevertheless crucial to its functionality and integrity.


Integration: Multiple Devices & Protocols

The diversity of devices involved in the networks is another hurdle for the successful implementation of IoT in healthcare. Ensuring that multiple devices are indeed connected to each other and multiple users—and effectively communicating with each other is a problem. The difficulty lies in the fact that the numerous device manufacturers do not have an agreed-upon set of communication protocols and standards. While a variety of mobile devices may be connected to the network and actively collecting data, different communication protocols complicate the process of aggregating the information. The lack of uniformity among the connected medical devices also significantly reduces the opportunities of scaling the use of IoT in healthcare.


Accuracy: Data, Data, and More Data

Even though the process of collecting and aggregating data comes with complications, healthcare IoT is responsible for accumulating massive amounts of valuable data. This data can be used to benefit the patients from the collective knowledge and insights derived from it. However, deriving the insights from immense amounts of data is problematic without sophisticated analytics programs and data professionals. Most importantly, identifying the useful and actionable insights is crucial—something that is becoming increasingly difficult for physicians and medical specialists as the amount of data grows. In fact, there are growing concerns about “too much” data—we’re collecting immense amounts of data, to the point that it can impede decision-making and reduce the quality of the decisions made. And the concerns are rising with the number of connected devices that continuously collect and generate big data.


What to Consider

In order to capture the true value from healthcare IoT, the connected devices and the supporting processes have to function as a joint system that is secure, integrated and comprehensive. If one part of the system is not functioning properly, the value is lost for both the patients who are the end users of the connected device, as well as the healthcare providers and other stakeholders in the connected healthcare IoT.

While some healthcare institutions are endorsing the use of digital devices and applications, others are not so sure of the value delivered by digital health applications, as evidenced by the CEO of AMA James Madara recently referring to them as “the digital snake oil of the early 21st century”. However, other more present challenges are often overlooked while discussing the potential benefits and disadvantages of digital health applications.

So what can one do to anticipate and prevent the issues mentioned above? First, ensure adequate security and encryption measures are taken throughout all development stages. Second, emphasize integration capabilities with a focus on IoT. Lastly, establish what information needs to be collected by the IoT devices and apps in order to deliver value to each one of the stakeholders and users.

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Need more help with launching your connected healthcare device and app? Contact us today to learn how Intrepid’s expertise can help you build the best mobile product at the intersection of humanity and technology.

Topics: IoT, Healthcare, Digital health

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