Covering everything from daily fitness applications and health monitoring to use within hospitals and critical care facilities, healthcare IoT development is one of the fields where the deployment of IoT tools and systems has begun to slowly have an impact on the way in which healthcare is considered, undertaken and administered.
As with most aspects of IoT, the headlines generated by studies over the last few years have been eye-
catching, to say the least. A widely-quoted McKinsey study from 2015 put the benefits of (for example) monitoring and managing illness, and improving wellness at between $170 billion and $1.6 trillion by 2025; a paper for HIMSS Asia Pacific estimated that there would be 646 million IoT devices used for healthcare by 2020 (with 161 million of those in hospitals, clinics and medical offices), while by 2019 some 30% of medical software in the healthcare industry providing real-time scenario data from IoT devices; while Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise stated that “IoT fundamentally changes the healthcare equation”. But what is driving this market?
The drivers of the IoT healthcare market are well understood. To quote one study: “The market is primarily driven by growing demand for improved patient care services, real time disease management, efficient and effective treatment outcome”.
These factors are matched with relentless cost pressures within the healthcare and medical sectors. Healthcare budgets in Western countries are faced with continual increases in costs of medicines and treatments, combined with demographic change to an aging population that is placing greater pressure than ever on systems and resources. In the global South and emerging markets, population growth also combines with resource limitations. The opportunities to enable better affordability is one of the key drivers behind IoT utilization in the healthcare sector, whether in a preventative or treatment role: some 73% of business executives expected IoT to deliver cost savings, according to a 2018 article.
Headline figures often draw from the most advanced markets and the adoption and utilization of internet of things applications in healthcare clearly varies from country to country, hospital to hospital, and individual to individual. Irrespective of this uneven deployment, the fundamental drivers of growth will ensure that IoT will play an increasing role in healthcare in the years ahead.
It is not all smooth sailing, however. Impeding the progress of IoT – and the real contribution that it can make – are challenges related to inter alia data security and privacy, increased compliance and regulatory costs and requirements, limited technical expertise and lack of experience or competence in deploying IoT solutions at scale, often within public sector institutions.
Regulatory requirements are not just those directly linked with IoT, of course. For example, HIMSS illustrates that from February 2019 within the European Union, those who manufacture, sell or dispense medications have to comply with serialization, compliance reporting and verification tracking guidelines under the Falsified Medications Direction. This creates an opportunity for IoT through improving enterprise workflows, tracking and tracing of medications, the ability to give feedback in real-time on cargos and so on. But it also means that healthcare IoT development and IoT software development companies have to be aware of the cross-sectoral implications of new regulation within the areas in which they work, increasing the costs and time associated with compliance.
Concerns regarding security have become more apparent within the healthcare sector, not least since the May 2017 WannaCry computer virus, which infected systems within the UK’s National Health Service amongst others, and the discovery of the Orangeworm group, which installed backdoors in healthcare organizations and targeted MRI scanners and X-ray machines in 2018. The increased availability of IoT increases the potential availability of surfaces for cyberattack. This is compounded with healthcare systems across the world continuing to use elements of outdated infrastructure (most infamously, Windows XP), which poses problems of integration with new IoT systems and applications.
IoT software development companies that work in healthcare IoT development will continue a vast potential range of areas in which to utilize their capabilities and talents. But the hinderances to the full uptake of IoT solutions and the potential benefits that it can bring for healthcare outcomes should not be underestimated. An article on IoTforall.com summarized these clearly, pointing to a 2017 study from Cisco that showed that only 26% of finished projects were considered successful. While rates will probably rise from this level, the challenges for IoT in healthcare show that IoT firms and healthcare IT administrators need to consider the best way to make effective use of the solutions and tools available. In many cases, this could result in the prioritization of projects and focusing on solutions where benefits can be incremental and proven rather than risking fundamental and system-wide change.