The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term first used in 1999 to describe a phenomenon that has since become commonplace: machine-to-machine communication using wireless technology. Healthcare IoT has huge potential to disrupt the industry while raising questions about data and security.

A “thing” in the IoT is any natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and given the ability to transfer data over a network. This can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a smart power meter, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, or a car with a sensor that automatically opens your garage door when you’re getting close to home.

The potential impact of IoT on our lives and the economy is huge. One report estimates that as many as 100 billion devices will be part of the IoT by 2025, with a global economic impact of more than $11 trillion. As MIT’s Kevin Ashton put it when he first introduced the term, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.”

The sky really is the limit with IoT. Since IPv6 hugely expanded the number of available IP addresses, we could now assign an IP address to every atom on the face of the earth – literally to everything “thing” on the planet – and there would be addresses left to spare.

Healtcare IoT – or the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) – is related to nearly everything we talk about in mHealth. Practical uses of IoMT include mobile medical applications and devices for remote patient monitoring, but IoT is also being deployed in hospitals to keep tabs on the location of medical devices, personnel and patients. Smart inhalers, pedometers, smart hospital beds, and Apple’s ResearchKit are all part of IoMT.

The Internet of Medical Things is one of the main forces behind disruptive technologies in healthcare, with some investors predicting that digital therapies will generate $300 billion in savings. But the growing connectivity of medical devices also raises questions difficult questions for providers.

First, there’s concern about overwhelming physicians with too much data and distracting them from actually treating patients. But more importantly, hospitals are still tweaking their security policies to keep up with technology advancements of the mHealth era. Can IT departments securely manage the vast amounts of IoMT-derived data now constantly being produced?

As SearchHealthIT reported, the security of IoMT is now a big enough topic that a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security spoke about it at HIMSS 2015. Unleashing the full potential of IoMT will require more robust security standards and communication protocols for healthcare and medical data.

 

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