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How the Internet of Things Impacts Health IT Infrastructure

As the Internet of Things expands, entities need to review every aspect of their health IT infrastructure to ensure success.

health IT infrastructure internet of things

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- The healthcare Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding as organizations seek digital tools to help automate data collection. Adding more devices to the network impacts health IT infrastructure. The devices need to be connected to the network, secured, and the data needs to be properly stored.

Many aspects of healthcare are impacted by the rise in IoT devices, from patient monitoring and clinician workflow, to machine monitoring and asset tracking. Connecting devices to the network makes less work for employees by automating data collection.

Patients and clinicians are also coming to expect digital tools to help improve the patient experience and assist with more accurate diagnoses.

IoT offers many benefits, but health IT Infrastructure needs to be evaluated and improved before organizations can utilize connected devices. Entities must know where those changes are necessary to properly support IoT devices and the data they produce.

Entities also need to consider the IoT hardware they want to introduce into the infrastructure. Small devices such as wearables or other patient tracking devices help collect patient data. Larger and more complex devices, like networked medical equipment, are also considered IoT devices even though they aren’t mobile.

Organizations either need to buy new hardware for the IoT or add IoT sensors to existing devices. This adds a significant amount of hardware to the IT infrastructure and needs to be budgeted for accordingly.

IoT devices require different software then other mobile devices because they operate differently. Different platforms and applications need to be purchased or developed to ensure that all devices have compatible and usable software.

Organizations cannot develop software the same way across the board when they are dealing with stationary, mobile, and IoT devices that all communicate with the network in different ways. The software that works for a mobile device most likely will not work for a stationary or IoT device. If all devices are treated the same, organizations will have large gaps and vulnerabilities in their security infrastructure.

Healthcare networks are also strained by IoT devices. The increasing number of devices demanding access to wireless networks can overwhelm legacy systems, leading to access problems.  Once an organization has its entire facility covered with a basic network, it must ensure that the network is robust enough to meet expectations.  

“An average hospital room will have between 15 and 20 medical devices, and almost all of them will be networked,” Aruba Networks Product Marketing Manager Rick Reid told HITInfrastructure.com. “That’s a pretty high density if you think about the size of an ICU room, which is usually about 15’x15’ with 20 devices in it - and the room next door has 20 devices in it. A ward typically has 20 beds, so that’s quite a lot of devices in a relatively small area.”

Dense device connectivity requires an upgraded wireless network, including WiFi and cellular connections, so IoT devices can always communicate with the network even during periods of high traffic.

IoT also presents a complicated challenge for securing healthcare data. The IoT appears in many different forms and can often make it difficult for IT administrators to differentiate among information sources, devices, networks, and IT applications, according to AHIMA. Without proper network control and visibility, it becomes harder for IT administrators to tell what is inside and what is outside of the network.

IoT devices that may not seem hackable can threaten the network if they are not managed and monitored properly. Seemingly harmless devices such as defibrillators can violate a patient’s privacy or come under a cyberattack just as well as a computer or smartphone. A device does not need a screen or an interface to be hacked.

AHIMA added that cybersecurity strategies for IoT devices, such as implanted medical devices, will differ from traditional strategies. Traditional security strategies will not work for implanted devices because connected devices do not function the same way and do not carry the same hardware.

IoT impacts every aspect of health IT infrastructure. Organizations that do not consider their entire infrastructure when implementing IoT device may find themselves with devices that don’t function properly or aren’t secure.  Fully supporting IoT devices is critical for healthcare cybersecurity success.