Overcoming IoT’s Obstacles In The Medical Field
Sean McGowanDecember 30th, 20175 minute read
Sean is a technical researcher & writer at Codal, authoring blog posts on topics ranging from UX design to the Internet of Things. Working alongside developers, designers, and marketers, Sean helps support the writing team to ensure Codal produces engaging web content of the highest quality. When not writing about the latest innovations in app design, Sean can be found cooking, watching old movies, or complaining about the shortcomings of his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.
While many industries have been slow to adopt IoT technology, the object-based tech has firmly ingrained itself in the medical field, heralding a digital transformation in healthcare. The Internet of medical Things isn’t just cutting-edge hospitals wielding high-tech equipment—it’s FitBits, Life Alerts, and other consumer-facing healthcare IT solutions as well.
In fact, IoT’s presence in the healthcare sector has spawned an entirely new industry: telemedicine, or the remote treatment and care of patients. Medical hardware companies are partnering with mobile app developers to provide unprecedented functionality, offering patients the ability to use their phones to perform routine tests and send data to their doctors without ever setting foot in a care facility.
The medical field’s cordial acceptance of IoT is fairly intuitive. As the physical and digital realms merge, it only makes sense the first vehicle we want to integrate new tech with is ourselves. But despite IoT’s prevalence in medical applications, there’s still some challenges it needs to overcome before IT solutions for the healthcare industry become mainstream.
Unlike other industries, where IoT’s impact and the resultant obstacles are still in the realm of speculation, the challenges the Internet of Things faces here are well-defined and widely recognized by medical professionals.
The essence of the Internet of Things is connectivity, the forging of data channels that were hitherto nonexistent. While this connectivity is the foundation of the IoT’s value, it’s also its Achilles heel. If it’s easier for you to access your data, it’s easier for hackers too.
While data security issues plague all applications of IoT, it’s especially concerning for the medical industry, which often houses extremely personal information. It’s more than potentially sensitive medical records—patient data can involve highly private financial or insurance info.
It’s not that security measures necessary to protect this data don’t exist—it’s rather the actual implementation and red tape that accompanies it that’s hindering the adoption of IoT tech.
Strictly regulated under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, off-the-shelf devices—and their accompanying healthcare software solutions—are going to have to undergo a series of hoops and protocols before they can access sensitive medical data.
Going hand-in-hand with cybersecurity concerns, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other medical care facilities will need to adapt to integrating this often robust technology into their workflow.
These facilities will need to bolster their IT departments, and may even have to restructure their departmental hierarchy to ensure all technology can be properly managed by the staff that needs it. On top of this internal shift, the introduction of new technology must always be accompanied by strong, protective policies to use and manage it effectively.
Further complicating matters is the often byzantine nature of the healthcare industry. The massive amount of data collected by the facility’s IoT system will have to be managed with consideration of healthcare providers, doctors, patients, and insurance companies.
It doesn’t matter the level of functionality an IoT solution can provide—it’s useless if it can’t be efficiently managed.
Another inevitable roadblock in the path to an IoT-powered healthcare system is the consolidation and integration of different devices and the data they collect.
As more and more commercial medical devices become available to healthcare facilities and consumers, decision-makers in the field must develop new ways to structure the communication between these devices, and the integration of all the data collected between them.
New standards and regulations will need to be implemented, and compatibility issues with legacy data and devices must be considered. It’s unfeasible (and ill-advised) for a complete migration to a system exclusively powered by new IoT technology.
The transition must be gradual, and robust enough to handle both the architecture currently in place, and the upcoming shift to an improved, more modern system.
The Path Forward
IoT has the potential to revolutionize not just the medical industry, but how we view healthcare on a personal and professional level. Indeed, this technology provides unprecedented insight to doctors and caretakers that can create a more proactive method of treatment.
It’s a difficult needle to thread, but a balance must be struck between policy and infrastructure that regulates and secures the information collected from IoT devices, without impeding the usability of the technology itself.
Companies that help build and develop IoT solutions can assist in tackling the complex issues native to the Internet of Things. This is literally life-saving technology, and it’s evident these roadblocks be surmounted if we are to reap the benefits that the IoT can offer.