Guest post by Christina Richards, vice president, AOptix.
In recent years, the healthcare industry has experienced a Renaissance of sorts with the development and adoption of mobile and connected technologies. As a result, healthcare facilities the world over are increasingly making use of smart technologies to drive better patient outcomes, track equipment, and support overall operations. In addition, the developing practice of telemedicine is becoming increasingly commonplace for doctors in healthcare settings across the United States, which is raising new concerns about the infrastructure needed to support these real-time doctor-patient experiences.
Although the development of these digital technologies for healthcare applications is only in its infancy, we are already beginning to see their wide range of benefits, including the potential to help organizations achieve the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI) Triple Aim of bettering the patient experience, improving population health standings and reducing the cost of healthcare. For instance, a 2014 study by Dale H. Yamamoto of Red Quill Consulting, Inc. found that that the average estimated cost of a telehealth patient consultation was $40 to $50 per visit, compared to the average estimated cost of $136 to $176 for in-person acute care.
With the widespread adoption of any new technology however, there is a learning curve to ensure that they can be effectively integrated into existing operations to capture the greatest benefit without compromising the level of care. But what does this entail?
As healthcare facilities become more connected through the Internet of Things, adoption will continue across a broad spectrum of devices and sensors—from wearable tech that monitors patient location and vital signs to analytics platforms that track staff movements and create more efficient workflows. While these devices span a variety of applications, they all share a universal purpose, which is the constant collection and analysis of data.
Likewise, video conferencing and other mobile approaches to telehealth are highly data-intensive, requiring the transmission and processing of large amounts of information. As a result, many healthcare administrators have encountered the need for far more robust mobile networks in their facilities to support the massive amounts of data traveling across their systems.
In considering other data requirements on the horizon, take the case of rapid genomic sequencing. While the new technology allows researchers to quickly determine the complete DNA sequence of an organism to predict disease susceptibility and drug response, the process requires the transfer of massive amounts of data. To make this information more widely accessible, one company, NantHealth, is looking into a method of compressing the data into a more manageable size so it can be shared with other facilities through high-capacity wireless connections, rather than strictly relying on fiber. With ever-growing levels of data becoming necessary in the healthcare system, new technologies and methods for managing it across various networks will become even more important.
To effectively make use of the data being created by IoT and telehealth technologies, IT departments must also begin creating the infrastructure necessary to support it. In preparing to do so however, they must consider two important factors: bandwidth and storage.
Data from the Internet of Things can be categorized as either potential or kinetic, dependent upon how it is managed from an infrastructure standpoint. Kinetic data is active, as it is either in a state of being accessed or transmitted across a facility’s network. As more and more of this data begins to flow through these hospital networks, organizations need to ensure that their infrastructure is capable of supporting not only the increased bandwidth required for current data loads, but that it also has the ability to scale-up over time as more connected devices are adopted into the industry.
When information is not being accessed or transmitted, it must be stored securely for future use. This is the passive aspect of IoT data, and just as healthcare networks will need to accommodate increasing levels of data traffic, their systems must store the increasingly large reservoirs of data that’s not immediately in use. Considerations by IT departments for how this data is stored will ultimately impact their investment in hardware, data centers or cloud technologies and services, all of which must also allow for flexibility in terms of capacity necessary to accommodate even greater data reserves down the line.
With the expansion of digital technologies across a range of healthcare applications, practitioners will no doubt become more heavily reliant on the data in support of patient care and internal operations. However, this increased reliance also dictates the need for facilities to create safeguards to keep networks intact in the event of an emergency or sudden communications failure.
Network path diversity is one of the most effective methods of reducing the risk of failure. By establishing two or more high-availability connections using either a different type of technology or a different physical path, organizations can minimize the chance that both connections will be knocked out at the same time. In addition, to ensure that no information is lost or compromised in the event of a failure, these connections must also be completely redundant in the data that they transmit.
IoT and telemedicine are already driving remarkable changes in healthcare, improving the availability and efficacy of care while simultaneously making it more affordable. However, to capture the greatest benefit from the technology, hospitals and other organizations will need to address their full potential for growth, change and the level of interruption created by their adoption. By laying the groundwork for these changes now, the industry will not only be more equipped to realize the potential of the Internet of Things and telemedicine, but able to grow their value overtime to define the future of digital healthcare.