Will Connected Medical Platforms Cure Healthcare?

By David Niewolny, director of healthcare market, Real-Time Innovations, Inc. (RTI).

Network, Earth, Block Chain, GlobeWe live in a world where medical errors are the third leading cause of death behind cancer and cardiac disease, leading to more than 200,000 preventable deaths every year. We have an aging population growing at an unprecedented rate: 8.5 percent of people worldwide (617 million) are aged 65 and over, and this percentage is projected to jump to nearly 17 percent (1.6 billion) by 2050, leading to an anticipated physician shortage of more than 50,000 by 2025.

On top of all of this, healthcare costs are projected to increase to over 25 percent of GDP in the United States by 2025. The convergence of these events is pushing the entire industry to begin leveraging technology more than it has in the past.

Many of these challenges can be remedied by leveraging industrial IoT (IIoT) technology that’s been proven to solve similar challenges in other industries. Could an interoperable, connected healthcare platform that applies the principles of an IIoT connectivity architecture to share data throughout the healthcare system be the cure for our ailing healthcare system?

West Health, now the Center for Medical Interoperability, seems to think so. In 2013 they published a report showing how an interoperable, connected healthcare system could provide nearly $30 billion in industry savings while improving patient outcomes in the process. These connected healthcare platforms provide the foundation for innovation that is needed to make a meaningful data-driven change in healthcare. It’s these platforms that open the door to application developers everywhere to create modality-specific applications using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

So what exactly is a connected health platform and how does it provide a foundation for transformational change in healthcare? First, a connected health platform consists of hardware (gateways and servers) and embedded software components that are designed to take all of the data from any medical device (clinical or remote) and convert the data in a single usable format that gives providers access to a complete data set.

This connected platform will provide a variety of user interfaces, analytics and clinical applications to help users throughout the healthcare ecosystem distill value from this newly-gathered data. The applications range from the early detection of sepsis, to predicting cardiac arrest, to providing business analytics like bed and device utilization.

The connected health platform will become the center of an ecosystem for further application development, similar to that of an online app store — but with built-in medical-grade safety and security. The connected health platform must ensure data security and patient privacy by aligning to guidance provided by the FDA on cybersecurity, and meeting the standards defined by HIPAA.

However, these connected health platforms are only as effective as the data they capture, which is determined by the connectivity frameworks they are built upon. Many of the currently deployed platforms are not platforms at all, but a collection of disparate systems that provide silos of individual device data. These legacy systems have been built using internally-developed, proprietary, message-based communication technology.

As the first step towards the development of a connected health platform, modern web services-based communication has been deployed on top of the legacy technology to begin integrating all of the disparate data streams via onsite data centers or the cloud. Although this is a step in the right direction, these platforms are far from complete. Because of legacy communications infrastructure they are built upon, they are only able to aggregate a portion of the data making these systems a poor fit for true near-patient, real-time clinical decision support – the key to efficiently providing improved patient outcomes.

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) recognized that the healthcare industry, along with many other “mission-critical” industries, was experiencing a similar set of connectivity and data integration challenges, and thus was not realizing the true benefit of the IIoT. In 2017, they set out to provide recommendations for the fundamental connectivity and security requirements of next generation IIoT systems. Its Industrial Internet Connectivity Framework document (IICF) recommends the Data Distribution Service (DDS) standard as the ideal framework for near patient, real-time connected health platform development.

DDS provides a highly reliable, secure, real-time interoperable connectivity platform and is proven in other mission-critical environments, such as autonomous vehicles, naval ships and wind farms. These systems all rely on real-time data that allows medical device companies to design a connected health platform for today and the future without the burden of a less performant message-based architecture.

DDS provides a level of reliability, security and interoperable performance that cannot be matched with any other currently available, standards-based technology. By working with standards-based technology like DDS, healthcare developers can develop systems faster, with lower development and maintenance costs. Using an advanced connectivity software framework allows the connected healthcare platform developers to better focus their core competencies, and their customers’ requirements, clinical workflow, analytics and diagnosis.

The next 10 years will be transformational for the healthcare industry. Innovation will be moving at an unprecedented pace. Big tech, medical device vendors, payers and providers will be racing to develop or leverage new technology to better utilize data to improve patient outcomes, lower the cost of care and run more efficient operations. The connected healthcare platform is the future of the healthcare market. Those who embrace this trend and get to market first will transform the industry and establish a model for high-value, lower cost care for generations to come.

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