Checkup: How IoT Tech Can Revitalize Healthcare


The Internet of Things can be an excellent tool, an entertaining toy or, in the case of healthcare, a life-changing technology.

A new study by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) on IoT in the Healthcare industry indicates that, although it is often deemed to have the greatest potential to benefit from IoT, healthcare remains one of the most underdeveloped IoT industries, due mostly to regulatory restrictions and data security concerns that currently hinder innovation. The TCS study reported that the sector plans to spend three tenths of a percent of revenue on IoT technology in 2015, but will be increasing this investment by at least 30 percent by 2018. The healthcare market, driven by IoT, is predicted to be worth $117 billion by 2020.

As doctors, nurses and hospital administrators get more and more interested in leveraging the IoT, providers need to step up to the plate to provide the tech they want to use.

One of the most promising first steps is in the RFID arena. Using RFID transmitter chips, hospital staff can track patients, pharmacists can monitor drugs and any system can be connected to any other, if only at a basic level. Because of these capabilities, RFID is rapidly making headway into the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, especially in assets-tracking, supply chain management, and inventory management. In particular, the need for inventory management to reduce instances of loss or misplacement of medical equipment, supplies and drugs is critical.

Recent analysis from Frost & Sullivan, “Market Opportunity for RFID Smart Cabinet Systems in Healthcare,” found that the adoption of RFID smart cabinets is likely to gather momentum over the next three to five years. The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain are leading markets.

“The low infrastructure costs and quick returns associated with RFID smart cabinets encourage their adoption in hospitals,” said Shruthi Parakkal, Healthcare Research Analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “End users prefer RFID smart cabinets with cost-effective architecture that eliminates redundancies – such as multiple paths – and reduces interference.”

Continued and growing recognition of the technology's potential to improve outcomes and efficiency in a healthcare environment will keep the RFID smart-cabinets market on track toward swift growth.

RFID cabinets are only the first move, though. MEMSIC recently launched its first high-performance, bi-directional flow sensors for medical and industrial applications. MEMSIC is a sensing solutions provider, and its MFC2030 Bi-Directional Flow Sensor will be available for use in analytical instruments, anesthesia and other medical flow devices, process control, and natural gas measurement.

The IoT can allow doctors to help patients in entirely new and powerful ways, but it also potentially introduces risk in terms of privacy data loss.

Within the last few months, there have been data breaches at healthcare insurers Anthem and Premera, and these attacks indicate that traditional approaches to security are not completely effective against modern attacks. Once the IoT moves in, the possible breaches only become more difficult to avoid.

With this in mind, organizations must take into account how vulnerable Electronic Medical Records (EMR) will be as this expected IoT wave hits the healthcare market. Another significant change that comes with IoT is a shift from human-to-machine communications to M2M communications.

How machines recognize and talk to each other and share data is very different from how humans communicate with machines. As healthcare companies implement connected devices, they must ensure they are able to monitor all activities across their network, including M2M communications, in order to identify and stop attacks. Device manufacturers also need to play a critical role by addressing security during the product-development cycle.  Manufacturers should ensure they provide information security professionals with full visibility into how the devices they design collect and share data with humans and other machines. Only then will healthcare organizations have the tools needed to maintain a high security posture in an IoT environment.

“You can secure simple systems, so one solution for medical companies looking to protect data is to own the system end-to-end,” said TK Keanini, CTO at Lancope, a networking security firm. “For patients, this is about quality of care, not security. We need a system-wide cloud, and that could be the most secure option.”

Edited by Rory J. Thompson
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