The global Internet of Things (IoT healthcare market was valued at $113.75 billion in 2019 and is projected to accelerate to $332.67 billion by 20271.1 Prior to the advent of the IoT, patient and physician interactions were constrained to just visits and written correspondences. Doctors, and hospitals did not have a way to monitor patient health continuously and make recommendations accordingly. However, IoT enabled devices are transforming the continuum of care, and unleashing the potential to offer improved delivery of healthcare that is better, faster, and safer for patients. These connected devices are also providing increased efficiency across the healthcare delivery ecosystem, for patients, physicians, hospitals, and insurance companies.
While the appeal and adoption of IoT connected devices in healthcare has been a welcome embrace in providing greater access to information, there are vulnerabilities within these emerging technology devices. Cybercriminals are growing increasingly sophisticated, and therefore the threat they pose cannot be overemphasized. Cyber-attacks, concerning breaches of healthcare data have proven a tempting target for hackers, and therefore drastic measures must be taken to safeguard clinical information.
Health systems have the responsibility of securing protected health information (PHI), a valuable resource that criminals can exploit for fraudulent gains. Staying ahead of the danger requires a concerted effort by health institutions. IoT security at large is a challenge for any industry, with common risks such as financial loss, data loss, and reputation loss. However, in healthcare the stakes are far greater, as security vulnerabilities could have significant safety and life-and-death implications2, which cannot be ignored.
SPECIFIC USES OF INTERNET OF THINGS FOR HEALTHCARE DELIVERY
IoT is undeniably changing the healthcare industry by digitalizing medical care solutions, some which are highlighted below:
Remote Healthcare and Monitoring
IoT devices has positively affected the lives of people, with the continuous monitoring of health conditions, especially for elderly patients and their families. Wirelessly connected devices such as heart rate monitors, blood pressure monitors, and fitness bands enable patients to receive direct access to personalized treatment information. Any variance or changes in the routine activities of a patient, enables family members and concerned health care providers to be notified in a timely manner.
Wearables and other IoT-embedded home monitoring devices enable physicians to keep track of their patients’ health more effectively. IoT promotes more real-time proactive interactions with physicians and patients which in turn fosters a more responsive approach to recommending appropriate treatment plans for the patient.
As data is captured through sensors in medical devices, remote monitoring equips physicians with the ability to detect anomalies real-time and adjust treatment recommendations where needed. For patients, remote healthcare through IoT sensory data is proving beneficial in granting quality access to care without needing to enter a doctor’s office or medical facility.
Access to patient records, providing at home consultations, authorizing prescriptions, monitoring vital signs, are all examples of how IoT is playing a vital role in remote healthcare and monitoring3, and in expanding efficient healthcare delivery.
Hospitals can leverage IoT technology to facilitate tracking of critical infrastructure, to include assets such as hospital staff, patients, and inventory throughout the building.
IoT asset tracking systems are proving to be an inexpensive, unobtrusive, effective, and cutting-edge method of monitoring day-to-day activities in a hospital setting.
Sensor-tagged IoT systems can track the location of medical equipment like Stretchers, ventilators, oxygen cylinders, defibrillators, and other surveillance aids4. The medical staffs are stationed at various locations also can be analyzed in real-time. Hospitals can minimize the potential for infection transmission with the use of IoT enabled hygiene monitoring tools to prevent patients from being contaminated.
In addition, IoT brings the opportunity for a more efficient way to manage clinical operations. Sensors can track who is where and what is happening, by delivering real-time online updates with greater visibility to all, eliminating the need for manual updates via whiteboard. This yields greater economies of scale for the hospitals as they can better manage use of their people, inventory and infrastructure as needed, rather than always being a step behind what is really happening5. Through connected devices, drugs and equipment costs are managed and asset utilization is tracked to meet demand.
With IoT sensor devices, physicians can better manage the administration of drugs to their patients. This can be done by ensuring doses are taken on schedule, with right quantity, and gauging whether drugs have been absorbed in the body. Healthcare providers are then able to adjust the dose and monitor the effectiveness of treatment. Automatic notifications can be sent to patients alerting them of when to take their drugs.
In 2003 a study was conducted by The World Health Organization which revealed that about 50 percent of prescribed medicines are not taken the right way or are completely ignored. To address this issue ingestible sensor pills have been developed. These tiny sensors are the size of a grain of rice and can act as a substitute for prescriptions by sending a signal to a receiving device once the medication is dissolved in the stomach.
Insurance Fraud Detection
Opportunities also exist for insurance companies. IoT compliant smart devices can analyze and the monitor the data collected to prevent fraud in the areas of reinsurance, safety compliance, and reporting operations.
Across the continuum of care, the use of IoT devices promotes transparency and offers visibility between insurance companies, patients, clinical staff, and external organizations governed by the underwriting, pricing, claims, and risk assessment procedures and practices.
PROS AND CONS OF USING IOT FOR HEALTH CARE DELIVERY
The healthcare industry has witnessed tremendous benefits with the adoption of IoT applications, Alternatively, there are reasons to be concerned about the utilization of IoT technology in healthcare which has major ramifications when introduced and implemented without any security considerations. Below are some examples of the pros and cons:
The accessibility of the real-time patient data collected by IoT sensors, has equipped physicians and healthcare workers with the ability to readily view necessary data, that is now at their fingertips, wherever they are located. The availability of this information has accelerated disease diagnosis and treatment. Healthcare stakeholders can also leverage the data to improve patients’ health and experiences while maximizing revenue opportunities and improving healthcare operations.
Due to real-time monitoring of patients, healthcare facilities can experience significant cost savings with IoT connected devices, which help to reduce unnecessary visits to doctors, hospital stays and re-admissions.
IoT brings about automation capabilities, whereby routine administrative tasks can be performed without human intervention. Additionally, with advanced data collection capabilities IoT applications eliminate the potential for human error when making a diagnosis. Data generated through IoT devices gives rise to effective decision making and guarantees efficient healthcare operations resulting in reduced errors, waste, and system costs.
Privacy & Security
In today’s tech-driven world, the web links each computer that an individual use. This increases the chances of data leak. Connected health-care systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks for several reasons:
- Healthcare Organizations have multiple devices linked to their network and their protection sometimes lags.
- Hospital security systems may overlook personal IoT devices brought in and out by physicians, patients, families, and the medical community.
- IoT healthcare apps contain important Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and Private Health Information (PHI) information, which may be accessed and exploited.
- Weak information security practices among healthcare staff, and failure to track sensitive computer systems that hackers could exploit.
- Healthcare organizations are confronted with the challenge of securing a wide assortment of linked devices, including those that are approved (purchased for patient care) and not approved (personal devices with varying security levels).
- This scenario provides multiple entry points for the system, complicating central control and providing a good surface for cyber criminals to attack.
As attacks grow more sophisticated, the simplest strategy is to plan for the inevitability of a breach while also working to stop one. Simple compliance does not ensure data security. At Cervais, we have established a comprehensive mitigation and recovery plan should your organization ever be compromised. Our solution is proactive and is one that anticipates and mitigates threats before they occur.
Organizations can employ key security measures to 1)create network visibility in understanding what devices are connected, 2) reduce risk by understanding which devices are communicating outside of the organization and lockdown the communication through a firewall, so other devices won’t be able to communicate externally, 3) implement network segmentation to provision security policies around the medical business workflow to avoid easy propagation of a breach across the entire network.
Artificial Intelligence coupled with a network of sensors connected to the cloud or edge analytics allows for efficient monitoring of patient vitals and activity. The inherent risk in the use of IoT Medical devices is that they are a repository for PII and PHI. As a result, it is paramount for healthcare organizations to implement security controls to avoid potential risks with loss of privacy and patients.