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A new tool from Microsoft that standardizes data collected from internet of medical things devices may make it easier for healthcare professionals to securely manage data coming in from different settings.
The Azure IoT Connector for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) was released for public preview earlier this month as a new IoMT data tool for Microsoft's Azure public cloud service. It is the latest feature added to the Azure API for FHIR, which was designed specifically for the exchange of clinical data. The feature is available for free and available to users with an Azure subscription.
The Azure IoT Connector for FHIR collects protected health information from IoMT devices and then converts that data, including biometric data such as heart rate and blood glucose, to the FHIR data standard. IoMT devices, a category of internet of things devices, are tools like monitoring sensors and fitness wearables that connect to a healthcare system's IT infrastructure through the internet.
While some healthcare systems, health plans and health IT vendors offer similar tools for IoT data collection and standardization, Microsoft is the first major cloud vendor to develop a feature specific to IoMT data and the FHIR standard. Analysts said the move reflects a trend of tech giants gearing their services toward the healthcare industry.
"It's showing the maturity of public cloud and it's sort of finger-on-the-pulse of where healthcare is going and where our user organizations want to be," said Jeffrey Becker, Forrester Research healthcare analyst.
Standardizing IoT data for healthcare
The Azure IoT Connector for FHIR provides a pipeline from IoMT devices to the Azure API for FHIR. It works together with Microsoft's preexisting IoT platforms such as Azure IoT Central to collect data from devices in remote patient monitoring scenarios, clinical trials and smart hospitals, and then makes that data FHIR-ready. The standardized data can be viewed together with other clinical data sets within the Azure API for FHIR.
"Health data can be sent to Event Hubs, Azure IoT Hub or Azure IoT Central, and is converted to FHIR resources, which enables care teams to view patient data captured from IoT devices in context with clinical records in FHIR," wrote Heather Jordan Cartwright, general manager of Microsoft Healthcare, in a blog post.
Jeffrey BeckerAnalyst, Forrester
Standard data formats for healthcare data have long been an issue, and federal regulators have recently entered the fray. A new interoperability rule from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT mandates that healthcare systems implement FHIR-based APIs so that patients can easily access their health data.
Gartner analyst Gregg Pessin said the Azure IoT Connector for FHIR is "forward-thinking," particularly because it enables a clean, clear view of standardized IoT data in one place.
"Tools like this where you have a cloud-based IoT ingestion tool that is outputting data in a standard format, I think that's a great thing," he said, adding that he expects Google and Amazon to follow suit.
Becker said conversations are happening today among healthcare organizations about using public cloud capabilities such as the Azure IoT Connector for FHIR to connect data stores and systems that aren't connected. Becker believes public cloud vendors are pushing to build those bridges with the intent of providing a "360-degree view of the patient," he said.
Additionally, with the Azure IoT Connector for FHIR, Becker said Microsoft is moving the capability to securely connect with IoMT devices, ingest IoMT data and format it into the FHIR standard in-house so Azure clients don't need to rely on a third-party tool to accomplish those tasks. This move furthers Microsoft's ability to work directly with healthcare organizations, he said.
Changing the market
The Azure IoT Connector for FHIR preview further signifies the push by tech giants to make public cloud enterprise-grade, according to Becker.
Public cloud vendors are beginning to go to healthcare organizations directly and creating HIPAA-compliant, HITRUST-certified environments that healthcare organizations are comfortable using rather than relying on vendors to act as a go-between.
"We've been tracking for a few years now the shift in strategy in the public cloud space from organizations focusing on software developers, which is what we saw for many years, to an approach where these organizations are increasingly pursuing healthcare directly," Becker said.