The Internet of Medical Things Just Keeps Growing — What Healthcare Providers Should Know

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430 million IoT devices will ship by 2022. How can medical organizations take advantage of the IoT revolution?

As patients demand more control over and visibility into their health, medical internet of things (IoT) technologies will become more widespread. The IoT has already proven its value to clinical trials as a means of increasing patient engagement and trial adherence, and hospitals are beginning to experiment with IoT tech to improve care and cut costs.

Though the demand for fitness trackers and smartwatches is beginning to slow, the medical IoT market stood at a whopping $22.5 billion as of 2016, and it’s only projected to grow from there with the introduction of sophisticated body sensors and lab-on-a-chip systems. IoT tech may be especially useful for primary care, where physicians could improve their ability to identify high-risk patients and manage post-discharge care for people with chronic conditions.

Here are three of the major issues that manufacturers, medical organizations, and regulators will have to consider before healthcare IoT can become mainstream technology.

Cybersecurity

A major concern for many providers and patients will be how secure medical IoT devices actually are. Medical data is incredibly valuable to hackers; as of 2016, 155 million Americans had their information compromised over the course of more than 1,500 breaches. If medical organizations plan to implement IoT platforms at scale, cybersecurity will have to be a top priority.

A comprehensive security strategy for medical IoT will require a combined effort from patients, clinicians, the private sector, and the federal government. Medical organizations must be willing to invest in top-of-the-line security standards, and in training doctors and their patients on data security best practices. A reasonable balance between domestic regulation and high industry standards will also play a major role in shaping the medical IoT landscape.

Data Integrity and Usefulness

One of the biggest potential benefits of widespread medical IoT is the ability to collect patient health data (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, physical activity, etc.) between visits. But wearables can often be unreliable, mis-measuring distance walked or skipping heartbeats. This doesn’t matter as much in a consumer setting, but device manufacturers will have to vastly improve their underlying technology and software before clinicians can use IoT data to diagnose patients or create treatment plans. User-friendly interfaces will also be critical, as doctors and nurses won’t have the time or the expertise to troubleshoot in an emergency.

Even if IoT data is reliable, developers still have to consider how to package it in a useful, intuitive way. Clinicians won’t be monitoring patients’ live feeds, so data must be run through analytics platforms that can recognize patterns and deliver insights. These platforms will need to integrate with patients’ electronic health records (EHRs) and be interoperable between various devices and mobile health apps to be truly effective

Patient and Industry Adoption

The last hurdle to overcome, though, is convincing patients, clinicians, and medical organizations to adopt medical IoT technology. Many doctors are skeptical of EHRs, which have been known to disrupt appointments and damage relationships with patients. On the other hand, users tend to enjoy and use wearables for the first few weeks, but usage declines when the devices’ novelty wears off. Without consistency, the data that medical IoT generates would be effectively useless.

But these challenges can be overcome with thoughtful design and education. The statistics are in IoT’s favor: 60% of consumers already believe that wearables can help them live healthier lives. User-friendly portals and entry forms will help patients track their progress in the context of their EHR and will ensure that clinicians can focus on their patients instead of administrative tasks. Insurance providers must also make the choice to cover these devices so they can be used among all income groups.

If implemented correctly, medical IoT could transform the way we manage our health, especially as healthcare becomes more patient-centric. It’s time to start finding solutions to some of these challenges and move toward a more connected future.

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