The risks and rewards of IoT in healthcare

David HoldThe Internet of Things (IoT) is taking the industries of the world by storm, and the healthcare sector is no exception. With 101 million IoT devices worldwide, the healthcare industry is becoming more connected by the day, and this figure is expected to increase by over 62% by 2020. As is always the case with new technology, the growing presence of IoT in the healthcare industry poses several threats to both patients and providers - but do the rewards outweigh the risks?

Firstly, let's explore some of the key benefits that IOT can bring to healthcare:

Long-term cost savings

The cost of healthcare services in the US is a real concern, so with 73% of healthcare professionals reporting cost savings since using IoT devices, the potential cost reduction associated with IoT adoption is a huge benefit to the healthcare system.

For example, by automating many administrative tasks such as updating medical records and patient recalls, organizations will be able to reduce the manpower in these areas, freeing up costs that could be invested in other areas of the healthcare service.

The life expectancy in the US is longer than ever before, however such longevity adds great strain on the healthcare system. Not only are there more patients to treat but the ageing population means that many of these patients are less mobile and therefore unable to travel to medical appointments. IoT devices that monitor patients' vital signs remotely can significantly reduce the need for home visits, therefore doctors can put time that would previously have been spent travelling between patients to better use, holding longer clinics or assisting junior clinicians, for instance.

A study by HDMA (Healthcare Distribution Management Association) found that pharmaceutical manufacturers were asked to provide credit for $2.6 to $4.2 billion worth of returned prescriptions annually - 72% of which were due to expired drugs. Improved inventory management systems that are connected to IoT offer an effective solution by determining when and how much to order so that organizations can minimize the drug waste and purchasing inaccuracies that led to such a colossal needless expense each year.

Remote care & greater flexibility

The rise in remote health monitoring technology has meant many routine medical checks that would normally need to take place in a healthcare environment can now be performed within the patient's own home. Clinicians can then receive instant real-time results enabling them to make a quicker, more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, therefore reducing the need of hospitalization in many cases.

Improved patient outcomes

Wearable healthcare technologies - such as glucose monitors and heart rate sensors - not only provide clinicians with valuable medical information but they also empower patients to take charge of their own health, particularly useful for elderly or immobile patients who are unable to attend appointments easily.

Cloud computing enables clinicians and caregivers the ability to access real time information from across a wide range of services and organizations, giving them a greater library of evidence and medical history on which to base more informed decisions regarding their patients' care plans.

Despite these benefits, there's no escaping the fact that IoT also presents a number of risks:

High implementation costs

Although IoT advancements offer a plethora of potential long-term savings for healthcare providers, the short-term costs can be high; implementation costs, training for staff, ongoing maintenance and so on can soon mount up to the detriment of the provider, if not managed properly.

Potential bodily harm to patients

All technology can breakdown or suffer glitches, however, should a piece of IoT equipment designed to monitor a patient's behavior or vital signs malfunction, the physician will not be alerted to any concerning changes in the patient's condition, potentially leading to deterioration in their health.

If the patient's condition worsens as the result of a faulty device to the point where they need expensive surgery to fix the damage, the patient may decide to file a lawsuit against the manufacturing company. This is a long, uncomfortable and expensive process for all parties and could cause seriously damage to the reputation of any healthcare providers involved.

Security breaches

Hackers are constantly improving their skills, and healthcare organizations are a prime target for malicious attacks. However, with 84% of healthcare organizations already having suffered an IoT-related security breach, it seems there are vast improvements to be made in his area, pointing to the need for stronger network access controls and better policy management.

Multi-access data encryption, securing back-end management systems and ensuring any communications containing protected health information (PHI) are sent through HIPAA-approved applications are all basic measures that every healthcare facility should be exercising as standard to minimize the risk of attack.

It's also important to remember that it is not just technology itself that is vulnerable to cybercrime. It's estimated that almost half of all data breaches in 2018 stemmed from phishing incidents, whereby criminals trick users into sharing access to sensitive information by posing as trustworthy entities. Therefore, it is also crucial that healthcare staff receive sufficient training on what to do in the event of an attempted cyberattack, in order to avoid compromising PHI or other sensitive data that may be of value to attackers.

There is no question that IoT can add immeasurable value to the patient experience under the U.S. healthcare system, and indeed globally - however, it is not infallible. While it is vital to explore innovations that will enable an effective and future-proof service, patient wellbeing and data security should always be at the heart of any development.

About David Hold: David Hold is Sr. Product Marketing Manager at j2 Cloud Services™, Inc. and is responsible for the go-to-market strategies for the eFax Corporate suite of solutions