As the healthcare technology and medical device industries grow, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is becoming ever more present. It is the network of medical technology that collects healthcare data and connects to healthcare IT systems. But what will it take for the IoMT and all its data to become actionable at scale?
Late last month, investors, clinicians and other healthcare leaders came together at the first Medical Device & IoT Summit in Boston, Massachusetts, to discuss the evolving IoMT landscape and its challenges. Healthcare innovators have dedicated the last 10 years to optimizing the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), but now the focus is shifting to enhancing connectivity, interoperability and cybersecurity between EHRs, devices and digital health solutions. And here IoMT comes into play in a big way.
Many speakers underscored the point that the IoMT ecosystem is very complicated. There are medical devices, clients, servers and hosts, but they don’t speak to each other in the same “language,” meaning every connection is independent and not easily adaptable. This is largely due to lack of regulation and no common standard. There is no interoperability among EHRs, medical devices and apps, so healthcare organizations spend most of their resources merely trying to transform and access data. The problem is, most companies have no incentive to support a common standard because that would force them to commoditize and compete on price, which would be much less profitable.
Managing health data is a unique task because the information being handled is of the utmost confidentiality. Medical devices are particularly vulnerable because they are accessible via non-network connections and may also report to computers that are not encrypted, thus making them susceptible to hacking. However, the analysis and use of such data has the potential to have great public health effects. Thus, there must be a balance between maintaining privacy and maximizing technological capability.
“Sometimes all the tech, even if you get it right, doesn’t always come together,” said Robert Havasy, senior director of health information system for HIMSS.
Data can empower people to work together to improve health, but only when the information is in the right clinical context. For example, most of today’s diseases are lifestyle- or behavior-driven, and merely providing a patient with information about their health is insufficient to motivate change. The data must be obtained accurately, communicated effectively and leveraged appropriately to make a meaningful difference.
As technology advances, disease burden changes and the socioeconomic landscape shifts, the Internet of Medical Things will continue to evolve. As one speaker, clinical engineering consultant Bridget Moorman, noted, “We are in the business of healthcare; our job is to support clinicians in their decisions,” and these decisions should be what drives the solutions. Too often we create the technology first and then try to find a problem for it to solve. Technology should enhance the quality and delivery of healthcare, all while supporting the providers and patients within it.
Caroline Yang, M.D., is a resident physician in internal medicine at Brown with an interest in the intersection of medicine, health policy and innovation. Her clinical insight and understanding of the business of medicine gives her unique perspective on the exciting advances within medical practice and the healthcare industry.
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