There’s no longer any question that the Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing healthcare. Whether it’s remote patient monitoring, smart beds, badges that link machines and people or mobile health apps, IoT devices are bringing new swaths of data into the clinical sphere.
But, every opportunity has barriers and bumps. When it comes to healthcare IT, it’s all well and good to extol the virtues of wearable technology and machines that can “talk” to each other, but what are the challenges involved in managing all that? Here are three barriers to the effective use of IoT health devices — and how you can overcome them.
As IoT devices proliferate, interoperability becomes a growing issue. Can the devices share data so the patient’s care team can see the whole picture? More often than not, the answer is no. Data collected from an EKG monitor or an asthma device often goes directly to the specialist handling the patient, but not to their primary care physician. The data exists in silos, separated by vendor.
Another challenge is keeping track of devices and maintaining them when they leave the hospital network. A physician may send the patient home with a device without the IT department’s knowledge.
One solution to such problems is to choose a technology partner that provides a robust application integration platform to create a software ecosystem. By using microservices and APIs, software from separate vendors can communicate and enable tracking and maintenance by IT.
An important first step is to take an inventory of all the medical devices in your system and evaluate the risk of each. Classify their data and identify the category of risk by understanding it, as well as its location and transmission.
With so much data being generated by so many IoT devices, security is also a major concern. HIPAA regulations require personal health information (PHI) be protected at all points. Worries about data breaches and device tampering are well-founded.
In addition, data veracity, or the integrity of the information generated by the IoT, is crucial. After all, this is the information that informs both medical and business decisions.
One solution for the security difficulties created by constant changes in software and security protocols is moving part or all of your operations to the cloud. Instead of your IT department managing your own data center’s security, a good cloud vendor should offer HIPAA-compliant data operations, along with Business Associate Agreements and SOC 2 Type I certifications, to protect you in case of audits. Likewise, it should have a strong network architecture with built-in data redundancy, whether the information is moving via a T1 line or mobile.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has offered guidance on security practices and standards for medical devices, as well. While it acknowledges the security issues involved with the wide use of IoT, the FDA believes the overall benefit to patient health is worth any risks. However, it emphasizes that data must always be encrypted, whether it’s being transmitted, processed or stored.
Capturing data from a multitude of IoT personal health devices and integrating it into a patient’s electronic health records (EHR) is essential — and difficult. If the information is to be of use to the patient’s healthcare team, it must seamlessly integrate with the EHR. Data from wearables and other devices are often trapped in the vendor’s repository or apps. What good is the data if it’s not part of the patient’s records, where physicians can see it and act on it?
Once again, use of APIs and microservices can solve this communications issue by enabling disparate software to connect securely. With an enterprise service bus, any application can connect to any data source.
Prepare for the future
The use of IoT devices in healthcare is here to stay, and will only accelerate in the coming years. The key for IT professionals is to implement systems that can control their technology and capture the important data being generated. The goals: Give clinicians valuable data to better manage patient care and continue to engage patients in managing their own health.