Medical Internet of Things: Using Technology To Drive Improved Medical Outcomes

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is a key emerging technology in the healthcare industry, wherein networked devices are used not only to store, transfer and monitor medical data about patients, but also to improve their quality of life by treating diseases using wearable and implanted devices.

Such devices can be categorized under personal health and fitness management (such as consumer-owned wearable heart beat trackers), internally embedded medical devices (pacemakers), wearable external care at home devices (portable insulin pumps) and stationary medical devices (chemotherapy dispensing stations).

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  • How Does It Help Doctors?

Uptake of Internet of Things devices depends on usage. Doctors still lean towards conventional devices, however the quick uptake by patients has compelled doctors to follow suit. While the advantages of networked devices are many to patients, doctors will also benefit from their advantages.

Having sensors imbedded in medical equipment could serve as a line of defense. Automated devices that can gather data on their own translates into lower costs and fewer resources for hospitals. Also, since there is reduced human error and accurate collection of data, increased efficiency is a result along with better treatment results.

Doctors can also have access to feedback to implement corrective action in a timely manner, besides monitoring compliance to prescribed treatment, diet and exercise regimes.

  • How Does It Help Patients?

Patient’s vital parameters are transmitted, stored, aggregated and analyzed on a public or private cloud so care can be administered in the patient’s home as well. Continuous real-time monitoring of patient health helps reduce unnecessary visits to the doctor and quickens diagnosis since it is done over the internet. Despite minimal human intervention, the diagnosis tends to be relatively accurate. Timely intervention and treatment of diseases before they worsen enforces trust in the treatment outcome.

  • Potential Security Risk In IoT Devices

However, considering the amount of reliability required in healthcare, where incorrect data could even be the cause of death in a patient, security of networked medical devices is of utmost importance.  According to a PricewaterhouseCooper (PWC) survey titled ‘Global State of Information Security Survey 2015,’ IT security breaches in the healthcare industry increased 60% between 2013 and 2014.

Heightened security is especially crucial for implanted devices since loopholes in these devices can create a life-threatening situation for the patient by manipulating sensitive physical data. E.g. A hacker can deliver a jolt of electricity that could kill the patient.

  • How To Avoid Gaps In Security And Reliability

Speaking at the US House Committee on Homeland Security in 2012, former CTO of McAfee, Stuart McClure suggested that cyber security should be baked into equipment, systems and networks at the very outset of the design process, rather than as an afterthought. This is a move that may be met with some resistance by networked device developers since standard (read: outdated) equipment is approved quicker than devices with newer innovations discouraging innovations in security.

Device engineers must ensure that these networked medical devices are not only completely secure but also ultra-reliable. How do they do this? By working in collaboration with industry regulators, hackers/security researchers and patients at design level as well as post-deployment to provide patches for any holes that may have crept in.

Taking a leaf from the books of industry giants such as Intel, IBM, Cisco, AT&T, and Microsoft who’ve come together to form a consortium called ‘Industrial Internet Consortium’ (IIC) to beef up security, manufacturers should also properly communicate among themselves to encourage shared decision-making.

Though there is risk in implementing networked devices on a large scale, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. The quicker everyone, including doctors and patients, jump on the Internet of Things bandwagon, the better it is for all as far as reliability, time-effectiveness and cost saving are concerned.

 

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