Healthcare is a massive industry, and you don’t have to look very hard to find plenty of data to reinforce that point. Whether it is the fact that in the United States we spend an average of $9,695 per person on healthcare (as of 2014), or that healthcare organizations spent $34.5 billion on IT spending in 2014, and that healthcare IT spending is forecasted to grow faster than any other industry at an annual rate of 5.5%.

What happens if you combine the massive size of healthcare IT spending with the Internet of Things, which is also massive and rapidly growing?

Can you realistically describe the opportunity that IoT presents to healthcare without diving into too much hyperbole? That is what we want to do in this series of blog posts, filter out the noise and investigate some of the opportunities for IoT and healthcare, both in the near term and in the long term.

For this first segment, I’m turning to Christian Boucher, Director of Healthcare Solutions & Evangelist for Citrix, to get his insight on where he sees opportunities for IoT to add real value to healthcare organizations.

Healthcare & the Internet of Things

Chris: So Christian, one of the things we’ve talked about in previous blogs is that when looking at the opportunity provided by the Internet of Thing; it is more than just looking at cool new devices. The bigger opportunity is the Integration of Everything, which is ensuring that apps, devices, things, users and IT systems can securely exchange information with each other within the digital business. How do you see this extending to a market like healthcare, where often the focus and hype is on the newest and coolest medical devices?

Christian: As Healthcare has transitioned from paper processes to digital, the challenge for organizations has been to streamline these new digital workflows while still securing patient data. This is where I see significant opportunity for operational efficiencies. In the near future I see connected devices (monitoring systems, transfusion pumps, beds) capturing real-time patient data and porting that data directly to EMR (Electronic Medical Record) and or analytics systems for clinical review and treatment planning. This will allow better patient care, by allowing teams of clinicians and physicians to monitor patients in real time, and be more proactive in their treatment.

The Integration of Everything

Chris: So, it really does tie to the Integration of Everything, ensuring that information can easily flow within a digital healthcare organization?

Christian: Absolutely, I also see efficiency gains in how physicians and clinicians interact with the technology they use to document and review patient information. Just look at the Workspace HUB that Citrix has been developing. Imagine a nurse walking down the hall of a hospital unit with a tablet device, as he or she does, IoT beacons along the unit navigate the EMR to the exact patient they are visiting.

As they walk into the room, they have already started initial review when they notice in the patient record that they need to physically assess a surgical incision. As they approach the patient, they place the tablet in a predefined workspace, and the active session jumps to large monitors placed strategically in the room to allow record review while interacting directly with the patient. Now think about the ability to use voice commands to navigate through and document within the EMR while treating the patient directly. As they finish with the patient, they simply grab the tablet device, and start the whole process over again as they walk to the next. This would allow for better direct patient care, and increased patient satisfaction by allowing care givers to focus on the patient and let the technology work in the background.

Chris: In many ways, we are advocating that IoT becomes a new middleware layer in healthcare, something that this article referenced when they suggested that a better middleware layer could address interoperability concerns in healthcare. I think the emerging market for IoT platforms (such as Citrix Octoblu) will offer easier ways to design workflows for managing the exchange of information across disparate systems.

Healthcare & IoT- Cautions

Chris: Now that we have established that IoT and the Integration of Everything represents an opportunity to improve patient care within a digital healthcare environment, what is the catch? What do you see as some of the biggest concerns health care organizations might have in regards to IoT?

Christian: As with any technology within the Healthcare arena, it first has to be safe/reliable, and secondly has to be secure. The regulations in healthcare that work to ensure technologies are safe and reliable can also serve as a hindrance to the development of the technology. The FDA regulatory process for devices or systems that touch, transmit, or process direct patient information is time consuming. The device certification process often takes years, and the cost can be significant. I see this as potentially slowing IoT adoption as organizations may not have the ability, nor want to build the solutions in house

Security is another concern. If you look at industry research, healthcare lags behind many other verticals when it comes to IT security, both in overall strategy, and annual spend on security initiatives. As the IoT begins to develop, and the footprint grows within organizations, security needs to become more important to healthcare leadership. Concepts like NGFW, IDS, IPS, NAC need to become more prevalent within the hospitals. These as well as secured ‘CLINICAL’ wireless infrastructure will need to be in place well before the true benefit of the IoT solutions can be realized. With patient monitoring happening over wireless infrastructure, there needs to be resiliency and security built within the ecosystem to guarantee patient, and data safety.

Chris: That makes sense. IoT has the potential to create new potential areas for malicious activity. With healthcare already representing a gold mine of data for potential hackers, it is reasonable to expect that the security infrastructure needs to mature before the benefits of IoT can fully be realized. However, I think we will see the Internet of Things helping to make the case for enhancing security in healthcare. As we start to see select case studies emerge on how IoT is helping healthcare organizations dramatically improve efficiencies, many in the industry will ask themselves how they can realize similar benefits, and that conversation will force them to take a closer look at security.

I’d like to thank Christian for sharing his insights into how the Internet of Things will impact healthcare. The intersection of the IoT and healthcare is an area we are paying close attention to. If you are in the healthcare industry, and would like to share your thoughts on this topic with a Citrix researcher, please add your contact information here.

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