Every few decades, a breakthrough in technology occurs and sets off a chain reaction that touches virtually every industry—from healthcare to business and consumer goods. In the ’50s, we had what would evolve into the modern-day microchip; the ’90s laid the infrastructure for what today makes up our Internet. Now, these two technologies are coming together to help propel the latest phenomenon: the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time information sharing, which drive what we know today as “telemedicine.”
The IoT is the accumulation of devices and sensors that are connected by networks to gather disparate sources of data that can be shared, combined, and put to work. This next generation of connectivity has been permeating the healthcare community, from hospitals to patient homes, for years now.
Although the concept of the IoT is very much in its infancy, it is already seemingly ubiquitous in healthcare organizations. Many devices are already being used to track equipment, monitor patients’ vitals, and support various operations within medical settings. Likewise, as practices like video conferencing and new mobile apps become standard practice in executing patients’ prognoses, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what these trends could offer, in terms of hospital efficiency and improved patient outcomes.
As with any widespread adoption of a new technology, a learning curve is required to ensure that it can be integrated effectively and without compromising patient care. As medical technologists begin to embark on this new journey, they are tasked with several important considerations. These concerns must be factored into the technology mix in order to take advantage of the valuable insights and efficiencies IoT and telemedicine can generate. Likewise, hospital administrators also face the additional challenge of laying the groundwork for reliable processes that have the ability to evolve over time as these trends mature.
Rx for Data
As hospitals become more connected, the IoT will begin to proliferate across a broad spectrum of devices and sensors, from wearable technologies that can provide biofeedback to sensors in light fixtures that monitor the flow of people through hospital corridors. While these devices may vary drastically in both appearance and purpose, they all share a universal quality: the constant collection and analysis of data.
This data has the potential to provide both short-term and long-term benefits. It can identify risky or dangerous situations and provide alerts in real time, while also creating detailed histories of patient and hospital activity that can be used to determine trouble spots and inefficiencies.
Likewise, video conferencing and other mobile approaches to telemedicine are both highly data-intensive and dependent upon mobile networks to function effectively. This will force IT administrators to think critically about infrastructure as medical care increasingly becomes delivered digitally.
Building a Robust Infrastructure
For this deluge of data to be effectively harnessed and supported, the appropriate infrastructure must be put in place. In laying the groundwork for the IoT, IT decision makers must keep two important factors in mind: storage and bandwidth.
IoT data, like energy, exists in both kinetic and potential states, qualities that reflect how the data must be managed from an infrastructure standpoint. When not in motion, this data needs a place where it can be safely stored and easily accessed at future times. Key considerations for storage strategy will ultimately impact investment in hardware, data centers, or cloud technologies and services. Over time, reservoirs of data will grow larger and larger, which means that systems must be in place to allow IT administrators to easily scale up and expand capacity.
Likewise, more data will also be flowing through hospital networks and to patient’s personal devices at any given time. Thus, the network infrastructure must also be capable of supporting increased bandwidth requirements, and also have the ability to scale up as more devices that transmit this data come online.
A Road Map for the Future
As the IoT becomes more ingrained into modern healthcare, there is no doubt that practitioners will grow to rely on this data in order to support patient outcomes. With increased reliance also comes the need for facilities to safeguard these operations. High-availability network connections and redundant back-up systems will help ensure systems’ continuous operation even in the event of failure or an emergency.
IoT and telemedicine are already driving remarkable change within the healthcare industry. Over time, the impact will be unmistakable. However, in order to take full advantage of the capabilities that this technology offers, hospital IT professionals must create comprehensive strategies. These plans must address the potential for growth, change, and interruption, along with preset tactics to handle each outcome.
With this framework in place, hospitals will not only begin to take advantage of the IoT and telemedicine. They will also be able to grow their value as integral elements within the healthcare technology mix well into the future.
Christina Richards is the vice president of marketing for AOptix. She is a 20-year veteran of the wireless communications industry.