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Five challenges of IoT in healthcare that put it at risk of failure

The internet of things has the potential to provide physicians with valuable data that can improve patient outcomes, but there are several barriers to IoT adoption in healthcare.

There are a number of opportunities for the internet of things to make a difference in patients' lives. IoT-enabled...

devices capture and monitor relevant patient data and allow providers to gain insights without having to bring patients in for visits. This process can help improve patient outcomes and prevent potential complications for those who might be considered high risk. Despite the promise of what IoT can achieve in healthcare, it continues to face challenges that could put it at risk of failure if they are not addressed soon.

The following are five challenges of IoT in healthcare that put it at risk of failure.

Lack of EHR system integration. While the data that is collected from IoT devices can include a patient's vital signs, physical activity or glucose levels while at home, that information does not typically travel to an EHR system and, in most cases, is not centralized or made easily available to providers. This limits the information's value since it is not always presented to the provider in a clinical context.

Some EHR systems allow patients to import data into their record, but this still remains relatively limited to a few dominant EHR players and leaves many providers uncertain of how to handle information that lives outside of their records systems.

Interoperability challenges keep IoT data in different silos. Patients are likely to collect different sets of data when using different medical devices depending on each device's purpose and, in some cases, the ordering physician. A patient with diabetes may frequently collect glucose levels and report them back to their primary care physician while also potentially capturing data related to their asthma on a separate device, which may be going to their asthma and allergy care provider. In many cases, the information that the patient captures stays within the boundaries of each of the systems and IoT vendors and is not visible to other systems. Unfortunately, with the lack of wider adoption of adequate interoperability, data from different IoT devices may remain locked in each individual system and lose its potential value to the rest of a patient's care team.

IoT data alone may not be as meaningful if it is not within the context of a full health record. Many providers support the collection of meaningful patient data between visits, but this data is only valuable if it can be incorporated and viewed within the context of a full patient chart and timeline. There are still many cases where the data collected from wearables and other medical devices stays locked in the IoT vendor repository or apps, but for a physician, that data may not provide any help unless it is visible within the context of the patient's full record.

Providers are hopeful that IoT will have a positive impact in supporting patient care and delivering valuable data.

Data security causes concerns in the implementation of IoT in healthcare. From the time that the data is collected at the device level to the point that it is transmitted over to its final destination, securing that information is critical and is required under HIPAA. But with the lack of common security standards and practices, many health IT professionals have concerns about the risks associated with IoT device tampering and data breaches.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of defining a common security practice and standards for medical devices as they become more frequent in the clinical setting. Earlier in 2016, the FDA released a draft of "Postmarket Management of Cybersecurity in Medical Devices: Draft Guidance for Industry and Food and Drug Administration Staff" to outline the steps manufacturers should take to continually address cybersecurity risks with their devices to better protect public health.

Constant changes in hardware and connectivity technology. Patients today need more than one device to capture the different health data their providers need. This can require more than one sensor that, in most cases, is used alongside a hub to which information is pushed that's designed to process the information. These hubs are not always compatible with the different sensors that are available, and having a lack of common hardware or wireless connectivity standards -- such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Z-Wave -- can cause patients to have extensive hardware in their homes, which can be overwhelming and costly.

Providers are hopeful that IoT will have a positive impact on supporting patient care and delivering valuable data. IoT applications offer the opportunity for providers to have visibility to what happens between visits and can provide some insights into patient medication adherence, activity levels and vital signs. But this emerging technology is threatened by the different challenges of IoT in healthcare defined here that, if left unaddressed, can get in the way of its success. Fortunately, there is traction around addressing many of these IoT challenges, and progress continues to be made toward resolving them and toward allowing IoT technologies to have a meaningful impact on healthcare.

Next Steps

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This was last published in September 2016

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