From tele-health appointments to take-home health monitors, the Internet of Things (IoT) is heavily used in healthcare. But all that data builds up and can remain in silos. How to use this data effectively and how to manage operation between various IoT devices to result in more advanced healthcare services is the recent challenge.
"Improving healthcare interoperability is a top priority for health systems, clinicians, patients, and even legislators," said Dan Soule, vice president of product management at HealthCatalyst, a data and analytics company that works with healthcare companies. "The latest governmental efforts to address interoperability came from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), which issued a proposed interoperability and information-blocking rule in February 2019. While aspects of this legislation are promising, previous attempts to improve interoperability have failed because the main sources for healthcare data—EMRs [electronic medical records]—produce non-standardized, disparate data."
EMRs have indeed been an interoperability stumbling point. They are a classic example of vendors trying to capture users in their own system silos, with limited interoperability with other systems—so much so, that in cases where hospitals acquire other medical institutions, the task of systems integration is so difficult that each separate institution continues to use its own EMR.
What does this have to do with IoT? Healthcare organizations use a lot of different kinds of IoT devices, so bringing the data together is still a difficult task.
"Healthcare presents a perfect combination of digital monitoring equipment with the ability to render important data that needs to be transmitted and analyzed in real-time [via IoT] to be responded to as rapidly as possible," said Brad Brooks, CEO of TigerConnect, a healthcare communications and collaboration platform. "Physiologic monitoring is the best example of this technology in the healthcare space."
In addition, IoT devices can be used to monitor patients in their homes, and to facilitate tele-health appointments between patients and their healthcare providers.
Brooks maintains that by using a common collaboration layer (or network) with an open API that can interoperate with various data systems, healthcare organizations can address system interoperability problems. However, that depends on the number of APIs the network provides to various healthcare systems and on the flexibility of healthcare workforces to modify their operational workflows to accommodate these new systems.
Neither is a slam dunk. Healthcare is slow to change and seldom does it seamlessly. Despite years of pressure, healthcare systems are not at the forefront of interoperability, either. Add to that the complexity of integrating IoT itself, since the IoT marketplace features a plethora of different devices, vendors, and operating systems.
Nevertheless, if cloud-based collaboration platforms can overcome this conundrum, the benefits to healthcare institutions, medical practitioners, and patients could be enormous.
"We are entering a period where rapid advances are going to be made around care delivery as interoperability combined with migration to the cloud is slowly becoming a reality," Brooks said. "The investments into the digitization of information have now been largely completed. Now we need to connect the data to caregivers at the point of care to be better informed, collaborate more effectively, and, in turn, make better treatment decisions. On the patient side, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring are going to change the way patients interact with health systems and providers in dramatically better ways."
Here are some things healthcare providers can do to better prepare themselves for these new advances.
1. Talk to vendors
The more healthcare organizations speak with system and IoT vendors and demand interoperability, the more progress in interoperability of systems they are likely to see. While there have been government and industry pressures on both healthcare systems and IoT vendors to standardize and to interoperate, the most effective pressure comes from those who pay for the technologies.
2. Look at network collaboration as an intermediate platform
If a cloud-based collaboration platform can offer hundreds of APIs into different healthcare and IoT systems, this is a great way for healthcare institutions to avoid the pain and costs of integration that they might have to do on their own.
3. Never forget about operational workflows
It's one thing to interoperate systems. It's quite another to interoperate healthcare institutions, clinics, medical practitioners, and patients. All have pre-defined ways of operating, and federal regulations to follow. It's not easy to get out of comfort zones and to learn new processes.
(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in TechRepublic. The original article can be found at https://www.techrepublic.com/article/iot-is-especially-useful-in-healthcare-but-interoperability-remains-a-challenge/)