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Healthcare IoT Requires Specific Architecture for Success

The Healthcare IoT is made up of hardware, networking, and software components that work together to produce and communicate clinical data.

Healthcare IoT demonstrates hardware, networking, and software needs.

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- The healthcare Internet of Things (IoT) is emerging and organizations are faced with building and deploying IoT-ready infrastructure environments.

Entities need to decide on the components that make up their IoT solutions and understand the different IoT architecture options.

The three core components of current IoT devices are hardware, network, and software, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report about IoT. These three features work together to connect IoT devices to the network and collect valuable information.

The specific technology making up these components may change, but each element of an IoT device fits into one of the major categories.

Sensors make up a significant part of the hardware component of IoT. Sensors collect information related to the environment the device is in. For example, a sensor on a wearable device would detect things such as a patient’s heartrate or track his movement.

READ MORE: IoT Devices Significantly Lower Nurse Response Times

Sensors can also be used on medical equipment or placed in rooms to monitor temperature or air quality in a room. The data collected is used to monitor the device and make sure it’s operating at full capacity. It could also be used to ensure a room is meeting certain required standards. This is especially important for medical research where a lab environment needs to be monitored for certain cleanliness or chemical reasons.

The next major building block of IoT devices is network connectivity, which connects the devices to the network.  IoT devices can use WiFi, Bluetooth, or cellular to connect to the network. Organizations choose what kind of connection an IoT device uses based on if it’s a long-range or short-range device.

Short-range devices typically use Bluetooth or WiFi, while long-range devices tend to use cellular connectivity. However, more short-range devices are moving towards using cellular as well because of WiFi limitations.

Taoglas Co-Founder and Co-CEO Dermot O’Shea told HITInfrastructure.com about the advantages of cellular connections over WiFi.

“Cellular is more robust in an environment,” said O’Shea. “It’s never a problem if too many people are using cellular to log onto the network like it is with WiFi. That’s often the problem in a hospital, there’s too many people using the network at the same time and it slows down the network. “

READ MORE: IoT Growth Sparks Healthcare Device Management, Visibility Solutions

Cellular is also a better option for IoT devices in rural areas because the devices often have weak or minimal wireless infrastructure.

The GAO report also identified the distinct kinds of networks and the device ranges they support.

  • Personal area network (PAN)- can transmit data over a distance of about 10 meters. PANs are often used for Bluetooth devices.
  • Local area networks (LAN)- can transmit data about 100 meters. LANs are used mostly for stationary IoT devices.
  • Wide area networks (WAN)- can transmit data over a wide area such as a building or a city. WANs include cellular transmission and are used for mobile IoT devices such as wearables.

Software is the last major component of IoT deployment. IoT software determines what information the device is communicating and what is done with that data. IoT software includes automation, data analytics, and operating systems.

The software component of IoT is where cloud computing becomes vital to the deployment. Some software can be deployed within the device, but most of the data analysis is done in the cloud. This gives the data a scalable and flexible environment to be worked in.

As healthcare IoT networks become larger by taking on more devices, fog or edge computing is an option to analyze clinical data.

READ MORE: IoT, BYOD Prompt Healthcare Cloud Security Market Growth

IoT devices are at the edge of the network, meaning that they collect data at the source and communicate that data to a centralized data center or cloud.

According to a report published by the IEEE Internet of Things Journal, cloud computing is not an efficient way to process data when the data is produced at the edge of the network.

Report authors defined edge computing as “enabling technologies allowing computation to be performed at the edge of the network, on downstream data on behalf of cloud services and upstream data on behalf of IoT services. The ‘edge’ is as any computing and network resources along the path between data sources and cloud data centers.”

A patient’s IoT device is the edge between the patient who is the data source and the cloud. Instead of the device sending the data to a centralized analytics platform, it’s now possible to analyze the data at the edge so it can be processed and displayed in near real-time.

IoT devices are becoming more popular in healthcare. As the number of deployments and devices continues to grow, the more options there will be for the different components of healthcare IoT allowing organizations to build unique solutions to meet their specific IoT requirement.


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