Anyone that follows the business news knows it. Healthcare is one of the fastest growing segments, especially with more Americans getting health coverage these days. While the annual inflation of healthcare costs has slowed a bit, the demand for the latest, most advanced treatments continues to rise.
In technology, it’s all about the Internet of Things, or IoT. Billions of smart devices and sensors will be online by 2020, feeding terabytes of information to Big Data for analysis. These devices will permeate almost every industry, from manufacturing to transportation, from retail to agriculture – and to healthcare.
In 2015, Forbes and MarketResearch.com proclaimed that healthcare will be the highest growth segment in the IoT revolution. In a report on Big Data and IoT potential, they said the market for healthcare IoT will reach $117 billion by 2020.
What does IoT mean for medicine? And what does it mean for IT in healthcare and adjacent industries?
The new face of high-tech healthcare
Cloud adoption, mobile devices and the Internet of Things will forever change the face of healthcare. Together, these technologies will allow billions of connected devices of all types to bring disparate data together, where it can be synthesized and understood.
We have watches that monitor our pulse and respiration … Apps that can send a photo of a skin condition to our doctor … Home scales that measure our weight, body fat and BMI … All these devices use the cloud to store the information.
We allow our doctors to access all that data so they can understand our general health, or diagnose what ails us. While they can’t set a broken hip, our connected devices do allow us a secure two-way consultation with our doctor from anywhere in the world. And doctors can send our prescription to the nearest pharmacy with just a tap.
The IoT is changing Internal medicine, too. Instead an invasive internal exam, patients can swallow a capsule equipped with a tiny camera and transmitter. Today, while they go about their normal routine, the camera sends hi-res images to a device on our belt. And next year? The recorder may be optional – your smartphone will transmit the capsule’s recordings to the cloud and store them with your other health data.
These examples don’t even scratch the surface. IoT will fundamentally change how we interact with our healthcare providers – and how they treat us as patients.
How we’ll deal with all that data
Now that we’re collecting all this data, how do we keep it safe while it’s traveling around the Internet? How do we deal with the sheer volume of the data when we go to store or retrieve it?
We’ve discussed the challenges IoT presents to data networks and security before, so we’ll not recount all that here. Because IoT devices are mobile and miniature, they can go almost anywhere. They can’t always rely on the security of a corporate network to transmit their data. That presents an opportunity for hackers to intercept or even alter such data, unless we develop new protocols for device identity, encryption and sophisticated SDNs.
But the sheer volume of IoT data is something we’ve only begun to address. Thanks to electronic medical records (EMR), smart devices and sensors, the data storage requirements for healthcare facilities has increased by as much as 50 percent in a single year, according to Accenture. As more devices are connected, performing more and more functions, storing, accessing and analyzing all that data will be a true test for Big Data. Thankfully, new hyper-converged infrastructures provide the raw computing power and massive storage required – at least for now.
A billion devices, a million new applications
What will the next big healthcare innovation be, ushered in by the Internet of Things? To answer that would require digging into hundreds of medical electronics labs, not to mention a lot more space on this page. For now, it’s enough to say that healthcare comprises only a small but ever-growing slice of the IoT. The volume of data on our networks will grow exponentially, as will the the storage and computing resources needed to store and analyze it. Are you ready?
Is your IT infrastructure ready to handle the data volume, security and storage required by the Internet of Things? Let us hear about it in the Comments section.