Five Hurdles Of Healthcare IoT - And How To Overcome Them

By Ron Nersesian
Dec 16, 2021 12:00 PM ET
Article

Ron Nersesian is Chairman and CEO of Keysight Technologies

Remote patient monitoring. Robot-assisted surgeries. Wearable biosensors. Medical delivery drones. The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) market is estimated to reach $158.1 billion by 2022, and the number of connected medical devices worldwide is expected to increase from 10 billion to 50 billion in the next decade.

At the same time, as noted by the Population Reference Bureau: "The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group's share of the total population will rise from 16% to 23%." We're also experiencing a rise in chronic diseases and conditions among all age groups. These factors will result in longer, more frequent hospital visits and greater prescription drug use — pushing an already strained healthcare system to its limit.

There's a clear opportunity for technology to improve the healthcare industry. We're already seeing hospitals use wireless devices to monitor real-time patient status, enable telehealth solutions and respond promptly to critical patient data. The IoMT can also help providers better diagnose and treat patients, prescribe targeted and personalized medicine, and improve communication and workflow for hospital staff. AI-enabled IoMT devices will enable healthcare practitioners to make informed care decisions and predict future health trends.

Last year, I wrote about the key technical challenges of IoT — at Keysight, we call these "the five C's." Today, with healthcare top of mind around the world, we'll review the same five C's through the unique lens of healthcare and share strategies to overcome them.

1. Connectivity. In a hospital environment, any disruption in data transmission could have devastating patient consequences. For that reason, ultra-high reliability and low-latency communication are essential; the stakes are too high for a dropped connection.

In healthcare networks, highly complex systems and dense device deployments must work around the clock without fail. As a result, device designers must incorporate connectivity testing early in the development life cycle, using robust solutions for hardware, software and relevant radio frequency tests. Proactively testing for signal or power integrity issues can ensure that IoMT devices are able to withstand the rigors of the real world and that healthcare organizations don't discover connectivity problems during an emergency situation.

2. Continuity. Battery life is one of the most important considerations for IoMT devices, and for good reason. In the healthcare industry, operational continuity can be a matter of life and death.

Device designers can take steps early in the development life cycle to maximize battery runtimes such as integrating sensing, processing, control and communication components to understand their respective power consumption and achieve an optimal balance between performance and power consumption. By working to extend the battery life of mission-critical healthcare devices, designers can optimize power consumption to provide uninterrupted access to essential patient data.

3. Compliance. Healthcare IoT is subject to evolving regulations that vary by country. In the U.S., the FDA outlines the need for device makers, pharmaceutical companies and other players to ensure the safety and efficacy of drugs, biological products and medical devices. Meanwhile, in Europe, the new MDR requires companies to enhance the device traceability, where each batch of medical devices will be marked with an identifier. As IoMT becomes mainstream, lawmakers will continue to release new and updated policies to safeguard the public health systems.

Pre-compliance and compliance testing throughout the product life cycle can help fix issues early on and avoid costly revisions. Device designers should build a comprehensive test plan based on their geography's regulatory standards and then use an automated test system to accelerate testing and provide insights into failures. Maintaining compliance through this process can help manufacturers achieve first-to-market breakthroughs and stay competitive in the market.

4. Coexistence. We found that healthcare facilities today have an average of 75,000 IoMT devices competing for connectivity. Coexistence — or the ability of a wireless device to operate in the presence of other devices — is essential for stable, reliable communication in healthcare IoT. This is especially important in healthcare, where interference can cause connectivity failures or corrupted data in life-saving equipment like pacemakers and IV pumps.

Performing coexistence tests early in IoMT device development can help avoid these critical interference issues. To execute proper coexistence testing, designers first must understand the interferences present as well as the target environment's frequencies, protocols and signal strengths and the required functionality for a device's wireless performance. These insights will inform testing strategies that can ensure reliable performance alongside other smart devices.

5. Cybersecurity. In 2015, Anthem — the second-biggest health insurer in the U.S. — fell victim to a massive security breach that compromised the personal information of 78.8 million people. Unfortunately, scenarios like this are increasingly common. In fact, Covid-19 has only accelerated these attacks, with cybersecurity risks reaching an all-time high.

In the IoMT, any connected device can potentially act as a gateway to other devices or entire networks. This expanded attack surface means that enterprises must design security into the earliest stage of device development and perform continuous validation throughout the product life cycle. At the network level, wireless providers should take steps to conduct proper risk assessments, detect and respond to threats within the network and document and test incident response plans.

Finally, raising awareness of cyber risks is a major component of securing healthcare IoT. A 2018 Zingbox report revealed that 41% of IoMT-related security incidents were caused by bad user practice. Device manufacturers and healthcare organizations alike should create initiatives to educate everyone from C-level executives to end users on cybersecurity risks and best practices.

These five C's represent the five primary challenges that enterprises must overcome to drive successful healthcare digitalization. By implementing rigorous design and testing standards early in the process, designers can build robust and resilient IoMT devices and networks that ensure productivity, reliability and security for healthcare organizations and their patients.