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Is Health IT Infrastructure Ready for the Internet of Things?

IoT solutions benefit healthcare analytics, operations, and patient care, but organization's IT infrastructure must be able to support it.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- As the internet of things (IoT) grows so does the importance of a healthcare organization’s infrastructure to support increased connected devices of various kinds. 

Embracing the IoT in healthcare

Gartner predicts that by 2018, 6 billion connected things will be requesting the support of IoT. These “things” include mobile devices, wearables, and medical devices.

The internet of things is the interworking of networking-enabled devices that collect and exchange data with other devices connected to the internet. It is global and includes personal devices as well as secure enterprise devices but can be implemented securely within organizations, creating a network-wide IoT.

The internet of things stands to improve the healthcare industry by giving organizations real-time access to data from medical devices in order to improve organization operations and patient care.

The report, Medical Internet of Things and Big Data, concluded that IoT technology provides valuable data for disease prevention and management. According to the report, beneficial IoT medical devices include “devices that constantly monitor health indicators, devices that auto-administer therapies, or devices that track real-time health data when a patient self-administers a therapy.”

“Because they have increased access to high-speed Internet and smartphones, many patients have started to use mobile applications to manage various health needs,” the report continued. “These devices and mobile apps are now increasingly used and integrated with telemedicine and telehealth via the medical Internet of Things (mIoT).”

IoT assists healthcare organizations in improving operational efficiency. Medical equipment connected to the internet of things communicates with staff when maintenance is required before it malfunctions. Medical device communication saves organizations time on lengthy repairs by communicating when preventative maintenance measures need to be taken, saving organizations money by extending the life of expensive medical equipment.

Instant access to files and documentation via mobile devices and wearables allows medical professionals to spend more time interacting with the patient and less time documenting the visit.

IoT solutions ease the data integration process from patient wearables such as fitness bands, which gives doctor’s more data to evaluate a patient’s lifestyle and provide the patient with more personalized and accurate care.

The opportunity for healthcare data analysis using healthcare IoT solutions provides significant motivation and interest in the technology, but organizations need to consider the toll it will take in their IT infrastructure.

HealthITAnalytics.com stated that IoT “concepts are so new and the infrastructure so immature that there is a significant gulf between the patients who are generating the data and the providers who don’t necessarily want to deal with it.”

Clinicians become overwhelmed with data if their organization’s infrastructure is not prepared to process, analyze, and organize information from these data sources. The data is useless if the infrastructure cannot present it to clinicians in a format they can effectively use.  

In order for patients and clinicians to benefit from individual data collected with IoT wearable devices, the data needs to be integrated into the patient’s record in a format compatible with the organization's EHR technology so an end-user can easily view and document the information received. Analytic solutions such as Hadoop may be able to handle this type of data.

HealthITAnalytics.com suggests that as the popularity of wearable devices and consumer apps for tracking personal health grows, patients will come to expect this data to be used in their health assesments and diagnoses. Organizations will eventually have to embrace the IoT and start considering how it will affect their health IT infrastructure.

Healthcare organizations can begin assessing their current EHR solution to determine the changes needing to be made to embrace IoT data.

Additionally, organizations need to assess their wireless network and determine if it can handle an increased number of devices connecting to the network. And, they must evaluate their guest networks to be sure that the connection is secure and that patient devices don’t have access to the main healthcare network.

IoT solutions allow healthcare organizations to collect and assess data that can improve patient care and operations, but a successful deployment depends heavily on the organization’s IT infrastructure and it’s ability to fully support an IoT solution.

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