The health care industry will need to resolve data interoperability issues and do a better job making sure medical devices communicate with one another if the digital revolution in health care is going to succeed, according to a long-time data connectivity expert.
David Niewolny, Director, Market Development of Healthcare for Real-Time Innovations, an industrial IoT connectivity framework company, says that in the decade he’s been involved in the health care market, medical companies have had to play catch up to sectors such as industrial and consumer.
“In the medical world, the idea of networked medical devices communicating with one another has been only the last decade,” Niewolny says. He notes that standard, universal protocols such as USB have been around much longer and used in industrial and consumer markets.
Until the past decade when the government decided to mandate electronic health records, medical companies had little incentive for all kinds of devices to communicate with one another, medical product companies realize their future business lies in their devices’ ability to transfer data to and from the cloud, and perhaps more important, to one another.
Getting to that point, however, is not automatic. Health Level 7 (HL7) is the set of international standards governing the transfer of clinical and administrative data between software applications used by various healthcare providers. These standards focus on the application layer, and are adopted by other standards issuing bodies such as American National Standards Institute and International Organization for Standardization.
But Niewolny notes that the real challenge with medical devices in the IoT age is far greater than transferring existing stored patient medical data. In order to make informed and accurate decisions on patients in real time, as diagnosis is occurring and treatments are administered, medical devices must able to relay that information to centralized data systems almost instantly, instead of having medical personal have to record that information fast and relay it.\
“The way to get the complete medical picture is to stream medical data,” Niewolny says. “There’s so much information you can get from that EKG stream than from recording data.”
Niewolny adds that the need for real-time data communications is particularly crucial for life support devices such as infusion pumps and vital sign monitors. “Anything in the ICU stands to gain the most from real-time data.”
The key to standardizing medical device to device data communications would be to adopt the Data Distribution Service, a machine-to-machine standard for data exchange. “DDS is a tried-and-true platform that has been used in the aerospace and military for years,” says Niewolny.
Regardless of the data protocol, Niewolny acknowledges that security of personal information will become critical as medical system administrators decide what information to divulge. Data encryption becomes more crucial.
“The level of data encryption has to be much more robust,” Niewolny says. “You need to decide what data to send and who should have access.”
Niewolny is confident the medical world can start to catch up with other industries in engineering their products to meet IoT requirements. But because the IoT to degree will standardize some of the requirements and functions built into medical products, he believes medical product manufacturers need to think about shifting their business model to provide more service.
“Their core business needs to change. The IoT turns out product companies into service companies. What customers are now paying for is service and analytics—they are signing up for subscriptions rather than just buying the product.”
Niewolny adds, “They (medical product companies) see the changes coming, but they can’t flip the switch overnight.”