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The Evolving Internet of Things (IoT) in Healthcare
By Jerry Power, Executive Director, Institute for Communications Technology Management, University of Southern California
Generally speaking, most technology driven advances tend to occur in compartmentalized and independent bubbles; progress achieved in one sector serves as an enabler for progress to be made in another. Properly implemented, technologies like the smartphones, EHR (Electronic Health Record), and even WiFi have allowed the healthcare industry to improve the level of care for patients, efficiencies for administrators, and returns for shareholders. However, in some cases, we limit the potential gains technology could offer by looking at these domains as compartmentalized disciplines.
For example, building an automated inpatient monitoring system for the hospital may improve operating efficiencies while improving patient care, but more could be accomplished if data from other administrative domains and consumer devices could be integrated to create a more holistic perspective.
Given the lack of an IoT VNA, todays practice tends to consider an IoT application and the associated IoT devices as a complete system. This practice tends to couple IoT devices to specific applications. However, by linking devices to applications, the net effect is to create a series of IoT application silos that are individually managed. Operationally, this is a complex proposition because staffs have to be dedicated to each silo or staff members need to become operational generalists that provide basic support to a larger number of applications. This same siloed architecture also tends to limit the healthcare professional’s ability to leverage data across a broad infrastructure. If certain applications are only aware of a limited number of IOT devices, it may be necessary to duplicate IOT device deployments if a deployed device is incompatible with a new application.
Some IOT application providers have attempted to solve this dilemma by creating application layer APIs which allows their application to link with another, as long as the other application is willing to accept data from a third party. This creates a manageable hierarchy as long as the number of applications remains small. However, such an architecture begins to operationally suffer as the system scales to support a larger number of applications. In addition, because the connectivity is dependent on the behavior of the applications, each application can become a reliability/ performance choke points. Such stop-gap measures can be expected to proliferate until a VNA-type vision can be applied to healthcare IoT.
While VNA philosophies can be used to break the IoT application-device silos that are appearing, they will likely not be able to incorporate consumer-targeted medical data.