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The Internet of Things in healthcare may not be a new idea, but it's the key to creating a more connected world within healthcare, according to one analyst.
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the connection of a group of digitized objects that can collect, send and receive data. Digital medical device use was born out of clinical need, often circumventing IT for approval or advice, said Gartner analyst Gregg Pessin. Now healthcare organizations are dealing with silos of IoT devices and data.
"In the past, the CIO or the IT department has had little input into what happens in that acquisition process, so you end up with IoT solutions, many of them from many different companies, that all work in their own little world inside that clinical environment," Pessin said.
That is changing. Healthcare organizations are beginning to see value in breaking down silos and bringing IoT data together to create a single view of a patient. Tech giants like AWS are pushing into the healthcare market providing platforms to gather and analyze IoT data while making it more accessible.
CIO's perspective on IoT in healthcare
IoT data silos and the lack of interoperability in healthcare are major challenges, according to Craig Richardville, CIO of SCL Health, based in Broomfield, Colo. They must be overcome for a healthcare organization to make better use of the IoT data it's collecting.
In healthcare, integrating vast amounts of IoT data into provider workflows is a complex, uphill battle, Richardville said. But as the healthcare industry matures, he said, there is growing opportunity to standardize and integrate IoT data back into provider workflows to create a more complete view of a patient.
"That's really the ecosystem we all want to create," he said. "The end game is [a system] that is fully connected all the way through, safely and securely, that allows us to consume or digest that information and get that back into someone's professional workflow so they can take advantage of the information. The outcome of that is we make better decisions."
Richardville believes IoT is the future of healthcare, further enabling a healthcare organization's connection to patients in their homes. IoT in healthcare can grow an organization's capabilities when it comes to remote patient monitoring, social determinants of health and other areas of healthcare. IoT data can help providers and healthcare leaders "make more precise and intelligent decisions," he said.
Richardville said IoT could provide greater connection to patients but that privacy and security should remain top of mind for healthcare CIOs as that connection to patients and data collection grows. It's also important that a healthcare system has the capability to analyze the data coming from connected devices -- an area where tech giants could play a significant role.
Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, all of which continue to push into healthcare, could provide healthcare organizations with IoT data gathering and analytics capabilities, Richardville said. SCL Health has a "strong relationship" with Google, which he sees as an "accelerator" to the digital healthcare work the organization is doing.
"When you look at the companies, whether it's Amazon or Google or Microsoft, all getting into this space … it actually allows us to be able to lift our game," Richardville said.
When it comes to IoT, Gartner's Pessin said there is strong motivation in healthcare to move toward platform products, which offer tools to gather and analyze IoT data.
Tech giants further enable IoT in healthcare
Healthcare organizations are buying more patient data-collecting and IoT-enabled devices, which is creating a "tidal wave of data" healthcare CIOs have to deal with, Pessin said.
The amount of computing and storage power required to process that much data is likely more than an on-premises data center can handle. That's where external, third-party players like tech giants come in, according to Pessin.
"What are they great at? They're great at scaling resources and they're adding all of these great, specific kinds of platform solutions like IoT services that they can sell on the platform," Pessin said.
AWS, for example, has AWS IoT services that health IT and medical device manufacturer Philips Healthcare is using. Philips created a customer-facing HealthSuite digital platform to provide customers with the capability to "connect devices, collect electronic health data, aggregate and store data securely, analyze data and create solutions on the cloud," according to the Philips HealthSuite digital platform website.
Dale Wiggins, general manager of the HealthSuite digital platform, said Philips chose AWS to be its cloud provider to store large amounts of data and large X-ray and MRI image files from Philips medical devices. The next step for the Philips HealthSuite platform is to use AWS IoT services for remote support management of Philips devices, Wiggins said.
AWS IoT provides Philips with a more cost-effective way to offer remote support capabilities on Philips devices to healthcare customers, he said.
"We're looking at using IoT to solve a lot of legacy issues with our existing remote support capabilities with new, cutting-edge, always on, always available services that AWS really supports through what they provide with IoT," he said.
AWS IoT offers device software, control services and data services, depending on customer needs, according to Dirk Didascalou, vice president of AWS IoT. AWS provides the infrastructure for IoT services and is HIPAA-compliant, but it does not have access to customer data through AWS IoT, Didascalou said.
Partnerships with tech giants and healthcare organizations, medical device manufacturers and even EHRs are becoming the norm, according to Pessin. Healthcare organizations create the data and tech giants can provide tools to collect, analyze and store that data. Pessin said healthcare CIOs have to be ready to develop partnerships between the two.
"The advances in digital care delivery that are coming are going to require massive resources, and it's those large digital giants that have that available," Pessin said.