By Alex Kulitski – The integration of smart devices connected to a network within the Internet of Things (IoT), led to the emergence of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). With the emergence of the new digitized healthcare era called Healthcare v4.0, IoT devices were deployed in several medical domains, especially with the excessive use of medical wireless sensors and devices, so let us consider it in more detail.
The digital transformation has already affected the healthcare industry, medical procedures, and healthcare analytic tools in particular. For example, the HeartLogic, a diagnostic device that is being used for monitoring and detecting early signs of worsening heart failure, or robot-assisted surgery with less invasive manipulations. With the combination of the newest imaging techniques and artificial intelligence, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has taken a great leap forward in the prevention of life-threatening events and diagnostic accuracy.
Frost & Sullivan estimated that there will be up to 30 billion IoT and medical connected devices in the healthcare industry by 2020. This is not surprising because IoMT reduces the need for in-person visits thus improving the overall patient experience. Moreover, it lowers costs for healthcare organizations and significantly reduces stress for the patient, especially within COVID-19 restrictions.
The IoMT technology is entering the healthcare industry at an accelerated rate. This network of devices can be categorized by several parameters:
- On-body devices (consumer health devices, such as fitness watches and sleep trackers and clinical-grade wearables that are regulated by health authorities and are mainly used at the recommendation of a healthcare professional);
- In-home devices (they represent telemedicine systems for personal examination, remote patient monitoring, and emergency response systems. This is the best way of monitoring bedridden patients or others suffering from reduced mobility);
- Community IoMT systems (they consist of emergency response intelligence systems that connect patients and first responders, mobility services, and devices for measurement and regulation of temperature, blood pressure, and other processes);
- In-clinic IoMT systems (these systems support administrative functions that allow medical workers to help patients remotely).
Medical wearables affected a lot of areas of patient care and led to the automation of many routine tasks in healthcare organizations. Which possibilities have been created for users in particular?
IoMT smart devices allow patients to send their health outcomes to medical workers who can make more precise diagnoses based on this data. Patient data management software helps to reduce the risk of mistakes in the treatment process and timely notify physicians about ill-health.
For example, AI-driven chatbots provide individual recommendations for a better state of health, schedule doctor’s appointments according to the treatment plan, or send reminders to take medicine on time. Some chatbots allow exchanging instant messages so that patients could tell health workers about particular symptoms and get emergency advice.
It should be mentioned about telemedicine in general. It became an irreplaceable preventive measure to limit the spread of COVID-19. Smart medical devices and AI-based solutions helped to relieve pressure on medical workers and expand the geography of remote patient care.
Smart devices also facilitate the treatment of children. Parents whose children suffer from fever can monitor their condition via the joined app. The data collected by smart thermometers and other sensors are used to alert the family doctor or the pediatrician, who can call an ambulance or provide advice and support. In the future, this patient data can be used for maintaining the medical history or advancing the treatment plan.
Despite these seemingly clear advantages of smart wearables, not everything is so straightforward. Connecting IoMT devices within hospital workflow has faced some difficulties in its implementation phase.
The use of smart medical devices plays a key role in remote patient care. At the same time, the patients themselves willingly use all available opportunities. Suffice it to say, more than 40% of IoMT devices users will continue to rely on wearable sensors as they help them to improve self-care with professional support and save time on in-house appointments. Also, there are significant benefits when electronic health records are used solely to improve the healthcare process and advance medical research.
Despite that, sharing patient data will always be risky. There must be robust measures in place to reduce the risks as much as possible. Until then, several challenges may entail serious consequences.
Compliance and licensing are obligatory for the IoMT ecosystem that is used in different medical institutions. Data analysis in the health sector must adhere to strict compliance regulations. Although manufacturing and testing these devices is in itself a long process, legal compliance is a considerable hurdle that must be successfully addressed. Ignoring this step may increase overall risks and legal costs in the future.
One of the HIT Infrastructure studies showed that a shocking 45% of connections between medical devices fail on the first try. This results in an average of two seconds of loading an application. It may sound not critical but sometimes a fraction of a second is enough to cause irreparable harm. Moreover, patients who rely on their doctors and their digital tools may question a doctor’s ability to treat them if doctors do not have reliable and timely access to the information they need.
The network may fail due to session, speed, or bandwidth limitations, physical barriers that interrupt the wireless signal, or simply errors in settings. In terms of saving lives, such failures are unacceptable. Tech specialists must ensure proper capacity planning so that the system could handle any additional load.
IoMT devices are often based on legacy hospital software that does not have appropriate security arrangements, such as integrated logging or two-factor authentication. The problem is that they’re built for practical utility, which makes them an easy target for a cyberattack.
The current amount of cybersecurity crimes proves that the required safety level is nowhere near as declared by the healthcare organizations’ representatives. The HIMSS survey suggests that more than 82% of medical institutions have faced a security breach. Hackers were mostly interested in data related to electronic health records and personal information regarding credit card details, addresses, and emails.
Following the situation, FDA recently released specific guidelines for ensuring medical devices’ security. The guidelines represent a list of proper functional requirements for IoMT, with an emphasis on safety.
The fast transformation of various medical systems fueled a high demand for new devices with enhanced functionality. A combination of IoMT devices, software for controlling these devices, and communication channels for interaction can provide lifesaving insights for medical workers daily without the physical presence of patients. The overall quality of health care depends on both new technologies and artificial intelligence working together as smoothly as possible.
Nevertheless, as the popularity of medical wearables increases, it’s crucial to determine how to handle the data load securely. Healthcare IT specialists should take the development process extremely seriously. A vulnerability in a smart medical device that allows data to be stolen or lost can result not only in clinical risk but also harm the health and safety of patients.
The majority of security leaders in the healthcare industry admit that maintenance, support, and funding are critical in addressing cybersecurity threats.
Alex Kulitski is Founder and CEO of Smart IT and is the co-founder and executive CTO at MEDvidi. Being a serial entrepreneur, he is a keen investor in technology startups and runs several successful side projects besides Smart IT and MEDvidi.
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