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The Healthcare IoT

University of Toronto_050922A
[University of Toronto]

The Internet of Things (IoT) has numerous applications in healthcare (i.e., healthcare IoT), from remote monitoring to smart sensors and medical device integration. It has the potential to not only keep patients safe and healthy, but to improve how physicians deliver care as well. Healthcare IoT can also boost patient engagement and satisfaction by allowing patients to spend more time interacting with their doctors. 

IoT-enabled devices capture and monitor relevant patient data and allow providers to gain insights without having to bring patients in for visits. This process can help improve patient outcomes and prevent potential complications for those who might be considered high risk. These deployments and use cases are just the beginning. More advanced and integrated approaches within the scope of the digital transformation of healthcare are starting to be used. Today, a variety of devices monitor every sort of patient behavior – from glucose monitors to fetal monitors to electrocardiograms to blood pressure. Many of these measurements require a follow-up visit with a physician. But smarter monitoring devices communicating with other patient devices could greatly refine this process, possibly lessening the needs for direct physician intervention and maybe replacing it with a phone call from a nurse. Other smart devices already in place can detect if medicines are being taken regularly at home from smart dispensers. If not, they can initiate a call or other contact from providers to get patients properly medicated. The possibilities offered by the healthcare IoT to lower costs and improve patient care are almost limitless. 

But healthcare IoT isn't without its obstacles. The number of connected devices and the tremendous amount of data they collect can be a challenge for hospital IT to manage. One of the central-most challenges facing IoT (still very immature, and a long way to go) is the enablement of seamless interoperability between each connection (i.e., lack of interoperability at the application level). Merely connecting "things" gives you very little or almost no benefit. The vast majority of "things" and data that we might be collecting may have no relevance to the decision we want to make. A business case is needed to justify the investment. It’s about getting the right data to the right person at the right time to make the right decision. Once we started collecting right data for decision making, applications like ERPs (Enterprise Resource Plannings) and analytics applications were re-written or enhanced to use this data. This is now Internet of Everything (IoE) - data, people, things and processes. 

In the IoT, hundreds of incompatible protocols co-exist today. This makes the integration of data and services from various devices extremely complex and costly. It is clearly time to consider how to expand the IoT beyond product silos into Web-scale open ecosystems based on open standards, including those for identification, discovery, and service interoperability across platforms from different vendors. 

Lack of Electronic Health Record (EHR) system integration. While the data that is collected from IoT devices can include a patient's vital signs, physical activity or glucose levels while at home, that information does not typically travel to an EHR system and, in most cases, is not centralized or made easily available to providers. This limits the information's value since it is not always presented to the provider in a clinical context. Some EHR systems allow patients to import data into their record, but this still remains relatively limited to a few dominant EHR players and leaves many providers uncertain of how to handle information that lives outside of their records systems.

In addition, the IoT technology implementations will likely raise concerns around data privacy and security. How to keep all of that data secure, especially if it is being exchanged with other devices. While most of today's devices use secure methods to communication information to the cloud, they could still be vulnerable to hackers.



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