IoT and blockchain: unique opportunities for healthcare
Leading healthcare organisations are leveraging the game-changing power of the Internet of Things and blockchain to improve patient outcomes and optimise internal operations. Individually, and more importantly when combined, IoT and blockchain — especially when paired with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning — provide even more possibilities for healthcare.
The maturity level of IoT is well ahead of blockchain. Variations of the IoT model — using numerous data-collecting sensors to gather real-time information — have been used for years in the manufacturing and utility industries.
What’s new for healthcare is the term Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT), which refers to a connected infrastructure of devices and software applications that can communicate with various healthcare IT systems.
Many healthcare organisations are already using IoHT, from monitoring newborns to tracking inventory and maintaining assets. A report by management consulting firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that the number of IoHT devices will rise from about 4.5 billion in 2015 to as many as 30 billion by 2020.1
Where does IoHT fit in healthcare?
The answer is that there are two distinct categories of use cases — one for clinical services and the other for support operations. In clinical settings, IoHT is improving patient-centric activities with remote patient monitoring (RPM). IoHT also aids clinical trials by closely tracking vital signs and any other indicators important to the studies, such as blood-sugar levels and weight trends.
IoHT benefits support operations with equipment-centric sensors and data-collection capabilities that can reduce costs through better utilisation of mobile medical assets.
Sensors give the facilities staff real-time information about the usage rates and location of digital X-ray equipment, ventilators and other movable resources so that they can be assigned more effectively and quickly located when needed, saving care workers valuable time.
In addition, IoHT sensory inputs can show technicians the real-time performance status of expensive machines such as MRI equipment.
Healthcare decision-makers are also evaluating the combination of IoHT and augmented-reality (AR) technology to create digital twins. Interactive and highly visual AR interfaces may digitally recreate complex hospital equipment to give technicians and clinicians realistic, hands-on training opportunities.
Blockchain source of truth
Newer than IoHT, blockchain is gaining attention because of its ability to generate and securely distribute permanent, unalterable records of transactions.
Blockchain creates sequences of transactions, known as blocks, and records them in an ongoing chain of events that can be shared among members of a network. Because the blocks are protected using advanced cryptographic technology, the records are virtually impossible to change, according to blockchain advocates.
Healthcare professionals are taking notice. Research by the management consulting firm Deloitte determined that 35% of executives at health and life sciences companies are planning to implement blockchain within the next 12 months.2
Where does blockchain fit in healthcare?
Blockchain has broad implications for the industry, including the ability to simplify and improve security and accuracy for cumbersome, inefficient processes. Examples include streamlining claims adjudication, faster medical insurance enrolment and augmenting B2B activity across the healthcare value chain.
When blockchain is combined with IoHT, secure, unalterable blockchains can also reduce risks by charting the chain of possession of medical devices and pharmaceuticals, allowing products to be traced through the supply chain.
This data provides a valuable forensic trail if quality issues arise after delivery of an item.
Similarly, if a manufacturer identifies a problem with a device or pharmaceutical, the blockchain can help vendors expedite recalls by quickly determining the location of inventory across the supply chain to keep it out of circulation.
Other blockchain opportunities include faster and more-efficient credentialling of employees, thanks to the ability to verify unalterable records of caregivers.
Healthcare executives planning IoHT and blockchain implementations should consider two supplemental technologies that can speed adoption and time to value. The first is the use of AI, which aggregates and then extracts insights by recognising patterns and correlations across large volumes of data.
Hybrid clouds are the second key to a strong IoHT and blockchain foundation. These new hybrid cloud-at-customer models provide highly scalable public-cloud applications and services, while keeping clinical data behind enterprise firewalls to conform to organisational and regulatory requirements.
Time to act
The latest digital innovations are creating opportunities for reshaping how healthcare organisations deliver patient services, improve outcomes, enhance clinician satisfaction and manage costs more effectively. But doing so requires a clear understanding of what IoHT and blockchain can deliver in the immediate future, and as they continue to mature over time.
To do that, executives should assess the current state of these technologies and how they can be combined with the help of cloud services for even greater impact.
Real-world use cases show now is the time to expand these assessments
|Chronic condition management||Supply chain traceability & recall|
|Remote patient monitoring||Claims adjudication|
|Asset monitoring||Health plan enrolment|
|Clinical research||Payer/provider B2B collaboration|
1. Internet of Medical Things, Forecast to 2021, Frost & Sullivan store.frost.com/industries/healthcare/internet-of-medical-things-IoHT-market-research/internet-of medical-things- forecast-to-2021.html
2. 2017 Cognitive Technologies Survey, Deloitte www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/deloitte-analytics/articles/cognitive-technology-adoption-survey.html
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