Unlocking the potential of IoT in health care to save lives
With unimaginable strain being placed on healthcare systems in Australia and around the world, the healthcare industry is becoming increasingly reliant on mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to revolutionise the delivery of patient care, improve health outcomes and save lives.
Advances in mobile device capabilities and healthcare organisations’ technical infrastructure have enabled medical practitioners to deploy devices to securely collect patient data, update patient records and assist in valuable research to gain deeper insights.
Connected mobile technology has also helped to deliver quality in-home care, keeping vulnerable patients away from hospitals while still under supervision. During times of extreme strain on the healthcare sector, especially when hospitals are experiencing supply shortages, ensuring patients can remain at home — while still receiving the standard of care they require — is the highest priority.
In Australia especially, attention has turned to how the country can revitalise its underinvested health service and use technology to stay ahead of the demands placed upon it by the pandemic. But with such a complex set of demands and potential solutions, just how can decision-makers unlock the potential of the IoT to improve patient care?
Accessibility and accuracy of patient records
When quality of life or even life itself is on the line, mobile technology means more than just devices in care providers’ hands. Mobile technology, such as smartphones, tablets and wearable devices, is being implemented to improve the speed of care and enhance the patient experience. Eliminating outdated, manual and paper-based processes allows caregivers to focus on their patients, improving the quality of their interactions and increasing the number of patients they can deliver care to.
For data to be utilised effectively, the information they are accessing must be complete, continuously up to date and most importantly, accurate. However, a recent research study commissioned by SOTI, Critical Technology for Critical Care: The State of Mobility in Healthcare 2020/21 Report, uncovered that a major factor taking critical time away from patient care was the time spent dealing with technical or system difficulties. In fact, 90% of healthcare workers in Australia estimated they lose up to five hours in a typical working week dealing with technical and system difficulties, translating to over 240 hours per year.
Worryingly, 44% of Australian healthcare workers also said they often experience technical difficulties when searching for medical information, and do not have access to all the information they need to provide patient care, prohibiting them from performing their jobs. Likewise, 58% of Australian healthcare workers said that these technical discrepancies were a result of the current systems in use not being integrated properly. At best, this has the potential to waste time and make it more difficult to achieve the best possible outcome for every patient. At worst, not having the right information at hand, particularly in an emergency, could lead to a clinical error and inefficient care.
At a basic level, mobile devices and apps can enable care providers to complete patient records digitally, perform triage and medication distribution, and enhance real-time communication between care providers and patients. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see that over 70% of Australian healthcare workers were issued with new technology and mobile devices to support their duties during the challenges of the pandemic, with 100% agreeing that these technologies made their jobs easier by simplifying their duties during this time.
Improving operational efficiencies
For healthcare organisations, more mobile devices and apps means an increase in management complexity, including security, remote support, app and content distribution, privacy and mobile device analytics.
Combined with an integrated business-critical mobile strategy, however, it can enable healthcare providers to realise operational efficiencies, an increase in healthcare provider productivity and an improvement in patient satisfaction. Most importantly, it can help ensure organisations are always safe and connected in times of crisis.
Tablets, smartphones and apps are not just useful for clinical, administrative and operational departments. Porters are available sooner, housekeeping can prepare rooms faster and maintenance can fix minor problems before they become major. All clinical and non-clinical workflows can be optimised to reduce patient length of stay, while improving the quality of care.
Whether it is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the USA or My Health Records Rule in Australia, healthcare organisations around the world are legally required to protect patient data.
Mobile technology can make compliance more challenging. Providers need to control who can access patient data on a mobile device, then how, when and where that data is processed. By implementing authentication rules and data encryption to safeguard physical devices in the case of loss or theft, data can be prevented from being transmitted to and/or from the device. Managing apps and content is another challenge, making sure that workers have the right apps and files to do their jobs while protecting them from malware and ransomware.
All new endpoints, sensors and devices being deployed in healthcare, therefore, require full life cycle management. For some devices, the risk is more than compliance and data privacy; there is also patient safety. New devices and endpoints will range from simple temperature and telemetry sensors to complex systems such as artificial organs.
By implementing an effective enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution, however, organisations can securely manage any device or endpoint with any form factor and any operating system throughout their entire life cycle; from deployment to retirement. It controls all aspects of healthcare mobility, from tracking physical assets to managing applications and content, while keeping devices and data, safe and secure.
The rollout of an IoT network of devices must be considered and planned. Healthcare providers themselves must be consulted and given the opportunity to discuss what technology can directly impact their work for the better. Technology for technology’s sake is not the answer. However, in a sector that depends so heavily on time and accuracy, the IoT offers the healthcare sector an opportunity to improve the most important thing of all: patient care.
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