The Internet of Things (IoT) has massive potential to change the way healthcare organizations operate and how clinicians treat patients, primarily because it simplifies the collection and transmission of data. Like businesses in other sectors, healthcare organizations can use IoT technology to manage equipment more efficiently. They can attach sensors to medical devices to track items, monitor usage and make more informed purchasing decisions.
Healthcare organizations can also use IoT technology to automate inventory control, keeping track of supplies and medications throughout the facility. Inventory specialists can use the data generated to ensure the organization never runs out of vital supplies, and they can analyze the data to reveal patterns and anticipate future supply needs.
But the most exciting IoT applications in the medical sector are technologies that can directly improve patient care. A recent Forbes article estimated that the market for healthcare-related IoT products will reach $117 billion by 2020. The market already includes products such as sensors that allow clinicians to remotely monitor patients’ vital signs, “smart beds” in hospitals to optimize support and pressure points and automatic dispensing machines to ensure that the right medications are administered in the right dosages.
There’s little question that the IoT has the potential to change the practice of medicine for the better. It can automate many rote tasks, freeing up clinicians to take on more patient-centered activities. It can help healthcare organizations reduce medical errors. IoT will allow a more mobile workforce to get real-time data, enabling faster decision-making.
Another area in which the IoT holds great promise for improving patient care is its capacity to enable remote consultations and more comprehensive care coordination. The real-time data IoT solutions generate, combined with information from advanced mobile imaging technology, give clinicians new tools to improve patient outcomes. But the future of IoT in healthcare isn’t free of obstructions at this early stage.
For all the potential the IoT holds for the healthcare sector, there are persistent challenges developers will have to overcome before the technology can have a sustained and positive impact in medicine. Security is a foremost concern, particularly in healthcare, where organizations routinely deal with highly sensitive data and have an obligation to comply with stringent privacy provisions, such as those outlined in HIPAA.
As IoT-enabled devices come online, information security professionals that serve hospitals and other healthcare organizations will have to address the vulnerabilities that arise when new endpoints feed into the organization’s data stream. Just as forward-thinking organizations have had to cope with the addition of endpoints brought on by the influx of mobile devices, which are now an integral part of healthcare technology, hospitals and health centers will need to integrate IoT-powered devices and ensure secure operation.
The experience healthcare organizations have had integrating mobile technologies into their daily operations will be instructive as they deploy IoT assets. It starts with changing minds before changing processes — getting clinicians and administrators to realize the devices’ potential for improving operations. As with mobile technology, once the people who deliver care embrace the new possibilities, IoT can fully realize its transformative potential.
About the Author: Morris Panner is the CEO of DICOM Grid, a health IT company that helps hospitals better manage, share and store imaging data in the Cloud. Prior to joining DICOM Grid in 2011, he served as the CEO at OpenAir, Inc. which he led from start-up to its successful acquisition by NetSuite. A graduate of Yale and Harvard Law, Panner speaks and writes widely on technology and policy and has been featured in Forbes, Washington Post, BusinessWeek and the New York Times.