The Impact of the Internet of Things on the Healthcare Industry




Innovative implementations of the Internet of Things (IoT) are beginning to have a big impact in the healthcare industry. From wearable devices that monitor patients’ chronic conditions, to smart beds that improve patient safety and comfort, to predictive analytics for preventive care, IoT in healthcare is poised to transform everything from patient care to advanced medical research.

A recent study revealed that 87% of healthcare organizations will adopt IoT in some form by 2019. The IoT healthcare market is projected to grow from US $41.22 billion in 2017 to US $158.07 billion by 2022, representing a compound annual growth rate of more than 30%. Hospitals and healthcare providers are using intelligent connected devices and leveraging the data they collect and generate to control costs, reduce human errors, provide better patient outcomes, and enhance the patient experience.

Connected and implanted healthcare devices include things like cardiac pacemakers, machines for monitoring vital signs, drug infusion pumps, defibrillators, glucometers, and blood pressure measurement devices, as well as large equipment such as MRI scanners, surgical robots, machines delivering proton beam therapy, and even sophisticated hospital smart beds. IoT enables interoperability, machine-to-machine communication, information exchange, and data movement that makes the delivery of healthcare services more effective. Virtually every part of the total patient experience can be enhanced through the use of connected medical devices.

IoT enables interoperability, machine-to-machine communication, information exchange, and data movement that makes the delivery of healthcare services more effective.

IoT Innovations in Healthcare

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is a prime use for connected healthcare devices. For example, a smart body sensor can perform a routine test or measure specific body conditions such as heart palpitations and send the data in real-time via a mobile app to a healthcare professional. RPM is especially helpful in monitoring the elderly and people with chronic conditions, or to track real-time health data when a patient self-administers a therapy. If the monitor detects a condition that warrants immediate medical care, an alert can be sent to the physician or to emergency medical services.

Robotics is a fast-growing field in healthcare. Robotic devices assist people by improving the quality of life of disabled or elderly people and in aiding with rehabilitation processes. Doctors and surgeons use robotic devices for surgery, exploration, diagnosis and therapy. The Internet of Things integrates robotics into healthcare processes and procedures.

Another innovation is the way that IoT is advancing diagnostics. For example, it’s now possible to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages through the use of a connected bra embedded with temperature sensors. This wearable technology tracks changes in temperature in breast tissue over time. It uses machine learning and predictive analytics to identify and classify abnormal patterns that could indicate early stage breast cancer. Women only need to wear the specialized bra for a couple of hours a month. It’s aiming to be more accurate than traditional mammography.

Overall, the use of IoT in healthcare operations allows organizations to gather information and conduct analytics that can produce data-driven insights that accelerate decision-making, reduce human errors and control costs.

Security is a Critical Component to Healthcare IoT

While IoT in healthcare holds the promise for medical advances as well as improvements in administrative processes, it also harbors a dark side: device security can be weak or even non-existent, posing a threat to patients and their most intimate data.

The threats to medical IoT devices are quite real. Wired magazine reports that in 2016, Johnson & Johnson warned customers about a security bug in one of its insulin pumps. St. Jude Hospital spent months dealing with the fallout of vulnerabilities in some of the company's defibrillators, pacemakers, and other medical electronics. And in a recent investigation of new generation implantable cardiac defibrillators, British and Belgian researchers found security flaws in the proprietary communication protocols of ten ICDs currently on the market.

Medical device security has become a much bigger concern for healthcare organizations since ransomware attackers began using vulnerable medical devices in their attack campaigns. While the potential is there for attackers to use medical devices to harm patients, such occurrences are rare. Rather, it’s much more likely that device security vulnerabilities are being used to gain access to the corporate network to steal data or deploy ransomware.

Nevertheless, healthcare organizations are concerned that medical devices remain free of vulnerabilities and perform as expected. Malware deployed to a device such as an MRI machine can result in significant downtime and loss of revenue when patient appointments must be canceled while the machine is out of commission. Moreover, medical devices may contain a patient’s personal health information (PHI), which is regulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). A breach of regulated data can be very expensive to the affected organization.

Medical devices – indeed, all devices – on the Internet of Things need their own internal defense mechanisms. It’s critical that such devices are certified to be free of vulnerabilities as they are deployed; that they have the ability to detect and repel threats from the outside; that their firmware can be updated when necessary to maintain a secure state; and that the cyber-health of these devices can be monitored, with alerts when conditions warrant.

The true value of IoT in the healthcare industry can only be realized if the devices themselves are relentlessly secure. Patients, clinicians and healthcare organizations need to know that there is no possibility of compromise of these most intimate sensors and machines that we trust with our lives - Dmitry Raidman, CEO, Cybeats

The true value of IoT in the healthcare industry can only be realized if the devices themselves are relentlessly secure.

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