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Overcoming the Top 3 Healthcare Edge Computing Challenges

Use-case definition, a lack of expertise, and data management concerns are key challenges for organizations approaching healthcare edge computing.

healthcare edge computing

Source: Thinkstock

By Bill Kleyman

- I really hope you’re not sick of this word yet, because it’s not going anywhere. Edge computing is certainly here to stay as we see greater distribution of IT systems and more connected devices.

At a very high level, edge allows us to process data much close to the source than other solutions out there. This is a big reason why data center and cloud operators are actively investing in and designing consumable edge solutions.

“Organizations that have embarked on a digital business journey have realized that a more decentralized approach is required to address digital business infrastructure requirements,” says Santhosh Rao, principal research analyst at Gartner. “As the volume and velocity of data increases, so too does the inefficiency of streaming all this information to a cloud or data center for processing.”

Remember, your own edge design can take many forms. They can be mobile devices designed for healthcare or they can be static — like a connected smart system for healthcare building management.

“A wearable health monitor is an example of a basic edge solution. It can locally analyze data like heart rate or sleep patterns and provide recommendations without a frequent need to connect to the cloud,” says Rao.

READ MORE: Edge Computing Essential for 2018 HIT Infrastructure

How the industry is responding to edge solutions

Already you’re seeing both data center and cloud providers deploy even more edge solutions. For example, earlier this year, Compass Datacenters acquired two companies (EdgePoint Systems and BitBox USA) that make them the first and only provider in the data center industry that can deliver dedicated mission critical facilities from the core to the edge-all with a common management and service platform.

With this kind of acquisition, this data center provider can now deliver, install, monitors and maintain fully-integrated edge data centers anywhere they are required, Plus, there’s a pioneering facility management platform that’s included which is specifically tailored for the edge.

Major cloud providers are in the mix here as well. For example, Azure has its IoT Edge ecosystem, which is designed to containerize cloud workloads and run them locally on devices from a Raspberry Pi to an industrial gateway using Azure IoT Edge. From there administrators can manage edge applications and devices with Azure IoT Hub, scaled to support your solutions running in the cloud or in private environments like Azure Stack.

What you can do to prepare your healthcare environment for edge

READ MORE: Healthcare Edge Computing Supports Increased Data Processing Needs

In working with a variety of healthcare organizations, I’ve seen a number of initiatives revolving around connected devices and distributed users. Basically, I’m seeing more use-cases around edge solutions than ever before.

That said, there are two ways to approach this. You can either build out your own edge platform or you can use a provider. Either can work just fine as long as you understand your own use-case.

Remember, edge solutions aren’t just ‘another data center site.’ They’re smaller, use-case specific, and are designed to be dense environments to help you process more healthcare and user data.

With that, let’s look at the top three challenges I’ve seen in healthcare when it comes to working with edge architectures.

  1. Use-case definition. This is actually a major stopping point for edge projects. There may be a great idea or concept but defining the use-case reaches a barrier. This usually happens when there’s misalignment between IT, patient care requirements, and management. Basically, the definition doesn’t resonate across the healthcare provider. In these situations, it’s important to take a step back and look at the long-term strategy of your own organization. Are you growing? Will you be supporting remote users? Are you trying to deliver new types of connected healthcare services? If you see that edge is a fit, take the next steps to write up a good business plan and technology strategy to support it. You don’t have to be an edge expert to clearly define your own use-case. However, it’s important to align infrastructure and business to ensure that your strategy can take off. From there, it’s key to work with the right people who can bring that vision to life. Which brings us to the next point.
  2. Lack of expertise. If you’ve tried to deploy edge solutions in the past but find yourself on a support island, you’re not alone. Over a fairly recent time frame, we really did have serious lack of expertise when it came to deploying edge solutions. Plus, these aren’t just inexpensive projects where you can just ‘wing it.’ So, even if a healthcare organization as able to define a use-case, it was stuck when it came to working with good partners who could help them implement the vision. Again, edge is not like a typical data center. There are different considerations around space, density, power, management, connectivity, redundancy, and much more. This is why working with the right people can make the entire process so much easier. The good news is that today there are great organizations, partners, and cloud providers which are ready and able to help with edge solutions. More so, there are organizations which can help specifically with healthcare requirements. Don’t let this be a stopping point. Work with partners that can help you scale and build out your own edge solution.
  3. Concerns around data management. This is a big one that adds a key complication into deploying edge. Basically, ‘what happens to my data?’ You’re going to have to take some extra time to define your data requirements and management policies. Is the data transient or will it be stored at the edge? What is the data that’s being processed? What is the connectivity control method around the data? Again, all of this will need to be defined and integrated into your own edge solution. That said, you can absolutely still build in compliance and regulation into an edge architecture. However, you’ll need to take extra precautions to ensure data security and control. Take into consideration the location of the edge, storage systems at the edge, how the data will be process, and who will have access.

I want to be clear – there are definitely other hurdles here as well. As edge locations grow, other concerns around overall management, efficiency, and design will definitely emerge. However, don’t let these temporary barriers stop you. There are great technologies and partners out there to help you define and design your own edge architecture.

READ MORE: The Future of Edge Healthcare Services and HIT Infrastructure

The fun really begins when you align your strategy with your business and see the complete vision around your own edge solution. There are seriously some big benefits when you deploy an edge solution properly. This includes:

  • Data proximity and efficiency
  • IoT data and health care provider system integration
  • Better and more informed data around patient health status
  • Lowers cost of medical care
  • Patient record keeping (think advanced EMR capabilities here)
  • Telemedicine (definitely check out my blog on this one)
  • Operating rooms leveraging advanced robotics and video equipment
  • Patient monitoring leveraging medical devices such as insulin pumps, smart lenses and pacemakers
  • Wearables and connected apps that track various health metrics, such as heart rate, count steps and hydration
  • Asset tracking using Bluetooth beaconing, RFID and wireless tracking
  • Facility utilization where sensors and data analytics help make the most efficient use of clinical facilities.

There are a lot of benefits and use-cases around edge and connected systems. Take the time to think about your own strategies and whether your current infrastructure is capable of supporting these initiatives.

If you’re a growing healthcare organization looking to impact more users and patients – especially those in rural areas – healthcare edge solutions might be a great strategy to include.

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