Last Updated | June 2, 2022
Introduction: Challenges of Implementing IoT in Healthcare
Today, technology in healthcare has put us in a state of perpetual fear, fascination, and confusion.
It continues to push the boundaries of how and where healthcare can be delivered and has the power to break new grounds in our understanding of different diseases.
That’s why healthcare constantly embraces technology advancements to transform the traditional ways of communication and connection between practitioners and patients.
Today, because of computers and then the internet, healthcare now has access to the futuristic solution, IoT.
IoT technology has fortified medical care data maintenance with robust connectivity, high accessibility, and improved storage capability, and that is why its market share is mushrooming. By 2026, the IoT market share is to reach USD 89.6 billion, which is double its value of USD 46.44 billion in 2020.
This market growth is driven by the adoption of IoT devices. From mood monitoring to notifying real-time heart rates, there are countless areas where IoT healthcare is finding its involvement.
At a glance, it seems practically fascinating. But, there is a flip side.
For hospitals and clinics, IoT implementation comes with potential pitfalls, and the challenges continue to rise that boil down to hindering from making the most of this latest advancement.
To find out what those barriers are, let’s deep dive into details and learn what challenges the implementation of IoT involves and how those challenges can be tackled.
But before we get into that, let’s first find the answer to the fundamental question everyone has:
What is IoT Implementation Challenges?
Internet of Things (IoT) refers to all the internet-connected physical devices (with sensors and software) that create a network for improving information transmission. The devices communicate over the internet autonomously without the need for human intervention.
They have enabled real-time health data analysis which was impossible earlier. The invention of these devices not only assists in providing personalized access but also reduces healthcare costs for patients.
The internet of medical things is the future of healthcare, and there are lots of benefits of IoMT (which is a more refined term for IoT in healthcare) that can eventually improve care outcomes.
IoT is a flourishing technology with widespread use. From personal health tracking to robot-assisted surgeries, IoT devices are used for various purposes. They have revolutionized the connectivity between systems to communicate with each other and improve patient care in hospitals.
However, healthcare faces some major challenges in its adoption, and those barriers block the maximum potential of IoT.
What are the Challenges of Implementing IoT in Healthcare?
Implementation of IoT comes with a batch of challenges. The challenges in the IoT implementation spike healthcare costs and leave rural communities underserved with proper and affordable care.
Although the United States is one of the most technologically advanced countries (as well as one of the wealthiest nations), when it comes to access to healthcare, the nation falls disappointingly short. The barriers to equal and timely healthcare engender challenges for the poor as well as the middle (and even upper) income families.
Some of the biggest barriers to healthcare existing today can be tackled with the help of technology. However, when the adoption of the latest technology like IoT faces challenges, it becomes a cause of additional problems and obstacles in receiving secure healthcare.
Top 6 Challenges of Implementing IoT in healthcare
- Lack of Standardization
One of the primary problems with deploying IoT devices is that they connect to a large number of devices through a network during their deployment.
The number of devices may not be in the hundreds of thousands, still, the number is high when devices like drug delivery systems, heart monitors, and equipment tracking are connected with routers, getaways, and other devices to complete the infrastructure.
To connect these devices, there are a multitude of languages, standards, and protocols used. There is an ambiguity around data ownership and regulation because of no universally accepted standards.
That’s why the integration of multiple devices through IoT becomes challenging in the healthcare sector. Even if the devices are connected, the differences in their network communication protocols complicate it for healthcare users to aggregate data.
Standardization is the key to creating universally accepted protocols for interoperability between medical devices. Using standards can help organizations ensure their software and devices are interoperable and reduce the overall cost of collecting data while keeping the system secure and minimizing gaps in protocols.
However, since global standards are absent, the complication of machines skyrockets and prevents them from interacting securely.
- Security and Privacy Concerns
Patient safety is always the top priority.
But, all the connected devices that interact in real-time to transfer health data are vulnerable to being hacked. Privacy of patient health data comes at serious risk when the devices do not ensure security.
Most IoT devices lack end-to-end secure connection and adherence to data security protocols and standards. Ambiguity around regulation makes data more susceptible to cybercriminals that can hack into systems to steal sensitive health information.
As IoT devices evolve and expand, it becomes challenging for IoT companies to be on the same page for interoperability protocols for sharing and protecting data.
Because of increasing viability, 82% of healthcare organizations have reported attacks on their IoT devices. The data transferred through IoT devices is misused for fraudulent health claims and creating fake IDs to buy and sell drugs.
This will continue happening, and the security will always stay in the imagination until developers construct secure IoT hardware and software.
- Integration with Legacy Systems
Integrating multiple types of devices often hinders the implementation of IoT in healthcare. The reason behind this barrier is that device manufacturers have not reached a similar ground for developing protocols and standards for communication, as said earlier.
Manufacturers construct their devices in isolation from others and within their own ecosystem of IoT. This results in their devices being unable to work with legacy healthcare systems and applications.
This is why even the top medical device integration companies fail to achieve seamless integration between IoT-enabled devices. Because there is no synchronous protocol to follow for aggregating data, there is a non-uniformity that reduces the scope of integration.
- Limited Bandwidth and Connectivity
Poor connectivity makes data exchange a slow process.
When aiming to connect devices, the foremost concern in IoT is limited connectivity. Although most medical IoT devices are connected via WiFi, many have cellular capabilities to cover up the failure of the connection in case the WiFi goes down.
When it comes to field settings where the WiFi is not accessible, the cellular network is the primary need. Thus, it is important to find the best cellular network that works well for a specific device in a given setting.
But, limitation in connectivity leads to issues not only in connectivity itself but also to costs of connectivity which become substantial when the amount of devices becomes dense.
In healthcare, the stakes for a dropped connection are too high. It can result in devastating patient consequences. For that reason, low latency must be taken into consideration.
- High Implementation Costs
You may not be surprised to see implementation costs listed here as a challenge.
Costs always appear as one of the greater challenges whenever planning to implement a piece of technology. When healthcare organizations adopt IoT which costs them in bulk, they increase their charges for health care services.
However, the increase in costs is a sign of worry for developed countries. If their organizations continue to adopt this expensive solution, healthcare costs will constantly spike.
The situation may get worse and give rise to “Medical tourism” in which people with severe health conditions would travel away from costly areas to access the care of developing nations, which would cost them as little as 1/10.
- Lack of Skilled Professionals
All the challenges of IoT are manageable and can be tackled when a highly skilled and trained team of developers is working on IoT implementation.
Very often, trouble in implementation is poorly staffed and inadequately trained IT departments who fail to handle the large influx of devices during implementation.
Although teams are trained, they only receive training to manage pre-existing IT operations, such as keeping the data backed up, the server updated, nursing station computers functional, and performing all other tasks which are part of the daily life of IT teams.
Sometimes, incompetency in implementation is not the problem. IT departments in a healthcare organization often excel at the implementation task.
What causes the problem is when large-scale deployment takes place, the workload on IT personnel increases, and managing safety, security, and maintenance becomes challenging.
How to Overcome the Challenges of IoT in Healthcare?
Overcoming technology is essential for a lot of reasons. Let’s consider it in the light of a research study:
According to a report by the Population Reference Bureau, the American older population will rise in the coming decades. People aging 65 and older are going to double from 52 million to 95 million during 2018-2060. At the same time, the number of Americans experiencing an increase in chronic illnesses among all age groups is going to rise.
As a result, the visits to hospitals will see a sharp leap that will push the strained healthcare industry to its limits. This presents a clear opportunity for IoT technology to improve the healthcare sector and overcome the challenges in IoT deployments to improve patient diagnosis and treatments.
Some challenges that need to be tackled immediately are:
For healthcare IoT, it is important to comply with evolving regulations that vary for each country. In the US, FDA guidelines are essential for device makers, manufacturers, and other developing companies to follow to ensure the drugs, biological products, and medical devices are safe and effective.
By keeping IoT in line with these guidelines, manufacturers can ensure the devices they develop are secure for users.
Dense devices connected within healthcare networks need to ensure ultra-high reliability and work around the clock so that no failure occurs. To deal with this challenge, device designers should incorporate connectivity and testing earlier in the development cycle.
Developing and implementing IoT applications costs healthcare organizations a significant amount of money and resources. However, costs are completely worth it if IoT implementation genuinely solves a problem and the returns are always huge as organizations save time and manpower.
This helps improve clinical processes, generates more revenue streams, and creates more opportunities to increase patient retention. This is why maintaining costs is a critical aspect of implementing IoT and requires manufacturers to adopt better approaches to handle cost modeling.
To keep the deployments within the budget, healthcare organizations need cost modeling that outlines how much the implementation will cost on a hardware and software architectural basis. Proper cost estimation is essential to realize the benefits organizations can yield from IoT devices.
Currently, the approach that helps handle data generated by IoT is cloud computing. However, because of the distance between IoT sensors and central devices that process data, it can be infeasible to process data. So, delays might occur. To reduce the delay time between cloud data centers and IoT devices, “fog computing” is introduced.
The paper by ACM Digital Library highlights how effective implementation of Fog computing can improve the quality of service. The fog layer in fog computing helps decrease delays compared to cloud applications and allows devices to conduct critical analysis without requiring cumbersome cloud storage processing. This speed makes IoT truly useful for healthcare and helps doctors make smart choices.
The Current State of IoT Challenges in Healthcare
Today, the lack of strong regulations is why IoT remains a challenging technology for healthcare.
IoT enables devices to exchange data in real-time, but the risk to medical data caused by the liability of data to attacks and theft makes it imperative for healthcare organizations to think twice before implementing IoT.
When medical devices connect to the internet, it is not hard to imagine many disaster scenarios that can occur in the absence of regulation.
Here are a few challenges that currently hover over the implementation of IoT:
- Integration of medical devices is a hindrance healthcare is facing. Since there are no synchronous protocols for data aggregation, there is always an ambiguity on how medical devices can be integrated.
- The data IoT devices collect is in bulk which overloads the practices with information and affects their decision-making ability in the long run.
- Like anything else exposed to the internet, IoT-enabled devices are prone to cyberattacks. This puts healthcare in a state of despair by making confidential health data insecure while transferring through IoT.
What is the Importance of Implementing IoT in Healthcare?
We have gone through a good many challenges and risks that IoT presents. But, what makes IoT so important? What is the need to overcome the challenges to successfully implement IoT in healthcare?
In the near future, a large number of devices will be connected to IoT. IoT can play an important role in diagnosing, treating, recovering, and monitoring health care processes. The hearable devices powered by IoT are transforming the lives of people suffering from hearing loss. These devices are compatible with smartphones and loaded with sounds from the real world that can be filtered and layered to reduce the hearing inability of patients.
IoT is consumer-focused. It provides maximum convenience and usability for patients and providers as well as offers many more benefits such as:
Simultaneous Monitoring and Reporting
One of the genuine marvels of IoT is ingestible sensors. They are pill-sized sensors that can go inside our bodies to monitor medication and warn providers in case of any irregularity. Real-time monitoring through these devices can be a boon for diabetic patients. Their reporting on curbing symptoms can help providers identify early warning of diseases.
Data Assortment and Analysis
For healthcare staff collecting and organizing data is not as easy as it might sound. IoT-powered solutions can analyze and segregate data through IoT mobile devices. Because IoT devices drive insights from data, they eliminate the need to collect raw data, which ultimately reduces errors and speeds up the process of decision making.
Remote Medical Assistance
Consider a patient suffering from a chronic disease and looking for medical assistance. But, because of geographic barriers and the lack of knowledge (about telemedicine or remote care), s/he is unable to reach a doctor. The patient would struggle with getting timely care access and the inability may result in the worst scenario.
This highlights one of the biggest barriers to equitable healthcare access for Americans from rural communities.
To ease such disparity gaps, IoT can play the role of a bridge. The end-to-end connectivity through IoT mobility solutions enables location-agnostic communication between patients and providers. Patients can connect to healthcare delivery chains and take medical prescriptions right at their homes.
IoT can help the patients by providing them with reliable care delivery on the go. Additionally, this increases patient engagement by allowing patients to spend time on their health from the convenience of their homes and interact with providers whenever they need.
Closing Thoughts About Challenges of Implementing IoT in Healthcare
The quantity and heterogeneity of connected healthcare devices create a complex and unattainable reality for the implementation of IoT technology.
With a large number of devices connected to the internet, organizations often struggle to understand what is connected, how it is doing, and how to protect them all. The absence of standards and security worsen the situation and make use of IoT risky for organizational data accessible through IoT-powered devices.
Despite these limitations, IoT has innumerable advantages for healthcare and can transform the way patients receive care today.
That’s why the healthcare industry constantly calls for solutions to reduce technological barriers to advance in maintaining and protecting healthcare data with the help of IoT.
When companies worldwide reach a common ground for protocols and security standards, implementing IoT can become safe for healthcare. If IoT adoption gets over all the obstacles, better and more cost-effective health care will no longer be away.
FAQs About Challenges of Implementing IoT in Healthcare
Is there a rise in IoT in the healthcare industry?
IoT in healthcare is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11.6% during the forecast period 2021-2026. The growth of the IoT market is spurred by the rapid adoption of connected IoT devices, healthcare information systems, and improvement in device accuracy and connectivity.
Healthcare sectors are embracing this emerging technology to achieve better care delivery across the industry.
How to ensure that healthcare data is properly collected, processed, and analyzed?
Healthcare involves a diverse set of data- both public and private- including patient medical records, administrative enrollment, and billing records which are used by many entities such as hospitals, physicians, and health plans.
The techniques they can use to collect data are questionnaires, surveys, medical examinations, or different online tools. For analysis, they should use various analytics tools and methods that help process the data and examine data sets to find trends.
What security and privacy concerns need to be addressed during IT implementation in healthcare?
Emerging technology in healthcare can open doors for security and privacy concerns that need to be addressed before implementing any new tech system.
Common security concerns arise when healthcare organizations deal with sensitive patient information. These concerns include:
- Risk to personally identifiable information. It may include sensitive or potentially embarrassing data.
- Data leaks if data security is not robust enough
- The use of mobile devices to access patient data puts it at risk. To address them, there is a need for encrypted layers to protect the data across devices.
- Unauthorized access to patient health can lead to theft or loss of data. Limiting data accessibility should be a priority for organizations before IT implementation.
Which EHR system is better: comparison between Epic, Cerner, and Allscripts?
While Epic and Cerner are developed by top healthcare software companies in the USA, a Chicago-based company owns Allscripts EHR.
The primary purpose of all three systems is to provide electronic health record solutions for medical practices to store patient health data. Despite the basic functionality being the same, they come with a different integration capability, specialized features, and UX design for healthcare.
Epic and Cerner are on top of the EHR market and customer satisfaction, acquiring a bigger share than Allscripts. The Epic system is easier to use and administer and does better for medical practice efficiency.
Epic integration can help organizations connect the EHR with other devices for better accessibility of records.
Cerner facilitates connectivity and operations at a large scale. Through Cerner HL7 integration, HL7 messages are sent to providers hailing from different practices to inform about a patient’s health or admission to the hospital. Some users of Cerner report a lack of documentation in Cerner EHR which may not be able to meet the fast-growing requirements of practices.
Allscripts HER integration software offers clinical, operational, and wellness solutions for midsize practices. It provides both EHR and EMR support and services to practices and optimizes processes. However, when compared to Epic, Allscripts EHR does not provide adequate user support.