The Internet of Things (IoT) has substantially changed health care in a relatively short time.
For example, connected devices allow older people to age in place safely for as long as possible. They help doctors confer with specialists across the world about complex cases, and they monitor patients’ chronic diseases between office visits.
Nonetheless, any advance in technology brings with it challenges to be overcome.
Here are five of those challenges facing health care in 2019 along with suggestions for what practitioners should keep in mind when they use health care IoT devices in their workplaces.
1. Most IoT Initiatives Are Incomplete or Unsuccessful
Convenience and speedy data transfers are two considerations that may motivate health care organizations to explore IoT technologies. There’s certainly reason to be excited about IoT’s potential.
However, 2017 research from Cisco, painted a less-than-glamorous picture of IoT transformation efforts. The research involved getting feedback from more than 1,800 people across the US, UK, and India, who were stakeholders in past or ongoing IoT initiatives.
Cisco’s survey revealed that finished projects were only considered successful 26 percent of the time. Additionally, about one-third of respondents deemed their finished projects unsuccessful. Most projects—60 percent—encounter trouble at the proof-of-concept stage or shortly thereafter.
However, it’s worth noting that utilizing external partnerships (e.g. platform partners) was a crucial factor for those organizations that achieved successful implementations. Although this Cisco study didn’t focus its analysis on health care organizations, that industry vertical was represented in the overall survey.
The findings emphasize that organizations should be cautious when planning their IoT rollouts in 2019. For example, they should start small and prioritize projects that align with their most prominent business objectives or patient needs.
2. Health Care Will Generate a Tremendous Amount of Data
Some of the most exciting health care IoT initiatives include ways to reduce emergency room waiting times, track assets and people that move throughout hospitals, and offer proactive alerts about medical devices that may soon fail. Those advancements are indeed impressive, but one challenge associated with all of them is the amount of data generated.
A forecast suggests that by 2025, health care will be responsible for generating the most data of any other sector. Now is the time for organizations to realize that deciding to use IoT technology will likely make data storage needs go up. They’ll notice the differences as soon as 2019.
Moreover, the health industry has to be exceptionally careful to treat patient data from IoT devices according to federal and state regulations.
The flood of data created by the IoT gadgets and devices used in the health care industry could also cause unforeseen problems if organizations are not equipped to handle it properly and verify its quality.
3. IoT Devices Increase Available Attack Surfaces
The vast possibilities for using IoT devices in health care also present concerning vulnerabilities. As device use rises, so does the number of ways hackers could infiltrate the system and mine for the most valuable data.
One new risk a Zingbox study identified is that hackers could learn about how a connected medical device operates by getting into the system and reading its error logs. The knowledge the hackers gain could facilitate breaking into a hospital network or making devices publish incorrect readings that influence patient care.
On a more positive note, however, Zinbox’s research showed progress in vendors, providers, and manufacturers’ willingness to collaborate. Those shared efforts could reduce patient risks by closing the gaps that can form between the layers of an IoT system by reinforcing standards and normalizing secure protocols.
It’s not possible to know all the cybersecurity risks health organizations may face in 2019. Nonetheless, facilities planning to implement IoT technology must take care to increase awareness of existing threats and understand how to protect networks and gadgets from hackers’ efforts.
4. Outdated Infrastructure Hinders the Medical Industry
Even though retrofitting can breathe new life into aging infrastructure, truly taking advantage of IoT is tricky if a facility’s infrastructure is outdated. Old infrastructure is a known issue in health care.
When hospitals are in dire need of revamped infrastructure, they also have difficulty hiring the staff to make upgrades. Tech talent is in high demand. Prospective candidates may not want to tackle old infrastructure.
5. IoT Poses Many Overlooked Obstacles
According to research from Aruba Networks, the most common use of IoT technology in health care is to apply it to patient monitoring systems.
It’s undoubtedly handy to take that approach, but something health organizations often forget is that unlike websites, for example, those devices typically cannot go through planned periods of downtime. Instead, updates have to occur continuously as people use the monitoring devices.
Additionally, hospitals often depend on IoT-enabled supply cabinets to track resources. Once those systems are in place, the facilities can often reduce previous inventory management issues, but even the smartest connected devices can’t eliminate human error. After all, we make those IoT systems. If humans are error-prone, it follows that our IoT systems can inherit error-prone behavior from us.
Vendor assessments are also crucial to conquering often-unanticipated challenges. Some manufacturers are primarily concerned with beating competitors to the market with their products. In the rush, many don’t build security into their processes from the start, so they shouldn’t be surprised when customer databases are breached.
Even if a hospital has above-average cybersecurity defenses, patients may still be at risk from products that lack adequate security. One bad apple can ruin the bunch. Cybersecurity has to be uncompromising and complete. Unfortunately, few current IoT systems are actually secure by traditional network security metrics.
Proactive Attitudes Could Lead to Better IoT Outcomes
Although this post discussed the numerous IoT-related risks associated with health care IoT initiatives—and while there are many more that we didn’t cover—health care professionals shouldn’t feel discouraged about using IoT in ways that make sense for the needs, budgets, and infrastructures of their organizations.
Identifying the challenges is the first step to developing effective solutions. With a deeper understanding of the challenges facing healthcare IoT initiatives, stakeholders will be well on the way to becoming well-equipped enough to develop and deploy health care IoT solutions through 2019.