Healthcare and the ‘Internet of Things’

By Santhosh Nair

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The healthcare industry is embracing the 'Internet of Things.' From the advent of mHealth, to healthcare personnel bringing their own devices into the hospitals, to consolidations that are happening up and down the value chain, the healthcare industry is finally embracing its version of the Internet. It’s a topic that I discussed recently in a Q&A session with Intel Embedded Community

With the ability to provide affordable care to the masses topping the lists of political and socioeconomic agendas globally, we need to make a lot more progress on this front.  Here are some on why we're still not where we need to be in terms of the global adoption and institutionalization of these concepts.

The first issue is infrastructure. Despite the advent of wireless technologies and the commoditization of electronics, the adoption rate has been extremely low in the healthcare space.  Machine-to-Machine (M2M) connectivity is the building block for interoperability in healthcare. If you ask the device manufacturers, most of these standards are already implemented. The challenge is the variations in implementation and the network effects that are taking place – there is almost no incentive for a device manufacturer to invest in an infrastructure that doesn’t yield the benefit.

The second issue is the life cycle costs. If you look at imaging systems, thousands of systems are introduced into the market every year. Therapeutic life-sustaining devices like infusion systems and defibrillators have an installed base of hundreds of thousands or even millions. Yet, a new design (big iron) happens every 10-15 years. The regulatory climate around these devices makes the manufacturers very cautious in introducing change and failure could be extremely costly. In addition, innovation is not happening at the software level so that the device is future proofed. Compare this with something like iPad/iTunes/Apps upgrades. Most get an upgrade once a week, and may not even know about it. With healthcare systems, annual upgrades are a luxury for most of these device classes, and the cost of these upgrades is prohibitive, since most of it is tied to hardware upgrades.

The final issue is trust. An industry will not adopt any technology that it doesn’t trust. This is the primary the reason why there is physical human interaction connected to mundane tasks like billing, orders, scheduling, etc. in a hospital. This is not just unique to healthcare, but is applicable to other sectors like aviation, energy, and transportation.  Now take banking for instance — gone are the days when people went to banks for basic transactions. It is now done over the Internet or via an ATM machine. The financial industry has automated most of the mundane tasks, while saving costs on expensive resources (like personnel) to value added activities like relationship management, and complex transactions. They have done this successfully via an outstanding implementation of security – adopting a design for security across their system. 

These examples demonstrate the great divide between consumer-driven enterprise systems and industry-driven embedded systems. While the enterprise has flourished and matured over the last 20 years of the Internet revolution, embedded devices continued to be homegrown and crafted. A lot of the maturity and ubiquity of enterprise and consumer systems have not yet permeated into the embedded world.

But now the healthcare industry has come to an inflection point, where there is no choice but to adopt some of the advancements of the consumer infrastructure. And there are signs that the industry is moving in that direction, i.e., GE talking about industrial internet, Cisco talking about Internet of Things, IBM talking about Smart Planet. At the grassroots level, silicon vendors are building a lot of M2M technology at the source so as to make it easier to develop sensor-based technologies.

It's definitely an exciting time to be a part of this industry and to be contributing to the advancements in this space with solutions like the Wind River Intelligent Device Platform, which is designed to resolve all of this ambiguity and make it easier for the healthcare industry to embrace the infrastructure.  I look forward for what’s to come.

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  1. Mental Health Idaho

    Well, it is quite true that health care industry has been grown a lot from last some time and internet has affected it a lot as well. Trust is a very important thing and having trust on technologies can help a lot to the person. Same is with health care industry where having trust on internet and technologies and making use of these technologies into the field can help a lot.

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