The Bridge Between Patient Care and Technology

Contributed by Jess Perkins, Business development manager, healthcare and pharma, Red Hat.

A New Way of Thinking

The Internet of Things (IoT) is often described as a way of virtualizing the physical world. In healthcare, an incredibly diverse array of “things” — from equipment sensors to kiosks to health monitors — each representing some aspect of the physical world, can pull data into a stream for use by backend systems. The IoT is not entirely new to healthcare – bedside monitoring systems, medication administration, and other “point” systems have been “connected” for years.  The healthcare IoT, however, represents a far more comprehensive strategy to collect, filter, sort, and target data in real time, to facilitate usability. And – most important for healthcare – being able to execute the strategy securely and within regulatory constraints.

Better Workflows for Better Outcomes

IoT has been widely adopted by industries like transportation and manufacturing because of its effectiveness in automating workflows. Due to the complexity and data volumes of the healthcare industry, the IoT has far more potential. From drug development to patient care, from treatment to payment, from patient management to population health, IoT can improve and automate processes.

Here’s an example: a pharmaceutical facility feeds equipment information and recipe parameters into production guidelines. RFID trackers are added to monitor drug lots for immediate recall or to combat counterfeiting.

Once those RFID-labeled drugs are out of the manufacturing facility, smart cabinets in hospitals can track expiration dates, available inventory, and dosages, and increase medication accuracy – freeing up clinical staff from manual inventory checks and avoiding costly mistakes.

Even further, tiny ingestible sensors placed within medication can be used along with remote patient monitoring to facilitate medication administration and reconciliation — all without requiring hospitalization or direct caregiver supervision. Business rules and process orchestration can manage exception handling.  Additionally, immediate warnings can be sent if dosages are wrong or skipped, improving patient care as well as physician insight.

In this example, operating efficiencies and cost savings in manufacturing are directly related to quicker production and higher quality, with better safety through lower counterfeiting and easier drug recalls. Clinical staff can spend time with patients rather than in supply rooms. And patients can have greater autonomy and quality of life.

Technology for Growth

The IoT unifies backend systems with external devices. While there are many advantages, it can expose internal systems and networks to security vulnerabilities and regulatory violations from external systems and users.

A gateway solution mitigates this risk. Using a three-tier architecture consisting of a device tier, a gateway tier, and a datacenter/cloud tier allows backend systems containing patient data and other sensitive material to stay secure. The gateway serves as a middle tier to communicate with devices, and then securely connects to the backend system to transmit data. Additionally, an “intelligent” gateway can contain business rules and other logic. With the business logic executed in the healthcare environment and not in the datacenter, performance and response times can be improved and efficiency increased.

Provisioning technology for all these improvements can be a challenge. When adding this level of intelligence to the gateway, it’s important to select the technology that can meet these demands:

  • Data ingestion and bi-directional messaging.
  • Communication among all elements in the IoT chain.
  • Data reduction and retention (aggregating, caching).
  • Application and data integration.
  • Edge and centralized data processing, rules and analytics.
  • Scalable storage and analysis of massive data volumes.
  • Web and mobile interfaces to visualize and present the information generated by the IoT architecture.
  • Secure foundation able to scale for future growth.

With this approach, organizations can begin introducing the responsiveness and efficiencies of IoT without sacrificing security and compliance.

Being Proactive

According to one Harvard Business Review article, IoT is a way of using technology to mirror human cognition. IoT cuts out labor-intensive manual information gathering and helps recognize behavioral patterns much more quickly. An IoT environment can allow healthcare organizations to proactively identify and respond to situations in real-time. Harnessing the right technology and combining it with process improvements helps achieve better patient care and better operational results.

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