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4 Pros and Cons of the Medical IoT

The IoT, or the “Internet of Things,” is quickly becoming a household term as everything from networked DVRs to smart fridges make their way into our homes.

IoT has numerous applications in the medical industry as well, appearing everywhere from patient devices all the way up to supply chain management for equipment and pharmaceuticals. IoT has the potential to change the medical industry from the ground up, though time has not yet determined if that change is going to be a positive or negative one.

Here are some of the most common pros and cons of medical IoT.

Pro: Cloud Data and Predictive Analytics

Medical devices collect massive amounts of information every single day, from vital signs and medication dosages to demographic information on the patients themselves. Much of this information is unsorted, leaving a vast amount of potential research data relatively untapped.

IoT devices allow this information to be collected, sorted and turned into useful predictions, through the use of predictive analytics. Essentially, all the information is fed into one server and predictive algorithms are applied to connect the dots, so to speak, to draw conclusions from seemingly unrelated pieces of data. With enough raw data, this can be used to accurately predict things like diagnostic trends, medication usages and even disease outbreaks.

With more than $30 billion spent on managing heart failure every year in the US, the use of predictive analytics to discover at-risk patients could potentially save both lives and money.

Con: Concerns About Patient Privacy

Many new implantable patient devices, such as pacemakers, are being designed using IoT technology because it makes them easier to monitor. Rather than requiring a landline phone and a bulky external device to check pacemakers, newer models can be monitored by simply sending a Wi-Fi signal to the device. Doctors can keep track of their patients’ implanted devices as well as receive alerts if the device reports a problem.

This does open the door to concerns about patient privacy. In a recent case in Ohio, police were able to obtain a search warrant for a suspect’s pacemaker data to be used as evidence in an insurance fraud case. While the search did prove that the suspect had committed insurance fraud, the use of medical data as evidence by law enforcement officers creates a dangerous precedent.

Pro: Patient Assistance and Improved Care

There’s a wide variety of IoT devices already being used in hospitals around the country to help better care for patients, including:

  • Blood glucose monitoring for diabetes patients
  • “Smart beds” that detect when a patient is trying to change position or leave their bed
  • Smart pills, which can be used to monitor health problems
  • RFID-equipped pill bottles, which track when a patient takes their medication and sends reminders if a dose is missed
  • Remote monitoring for patients who have left the hospital but still require care

All of these devices and many more that haven’t hit the market yet rely on IoT technology to provide the best care for the patients who utilize these hospitals.

Con: Security Breaches

We’ve already spoken about patient privacy, but what about the security of the devices themselves? As a massive DDoS (Directed Denial of Service) attack in October of 2016 proved, unsecured IoT devices can be turned into a “bot-net,” which enables hackers to attack servers from hundreds or thousands of different IP addresses. By infecting these unsecured devices with malware, hackers were able to utilize the processing power of these smart devices to turn them, in this case, against Dyn, a DNS server provider.

While many of these problems can be prevented simply by changing the default password on the IoT devices, the possibility of these devices being compromised by hackers does still exist.

Overall, IoT devices have begun to change the medical industry for the better, enabling professionals to take better care of their patients. Time will only tell if this trend toward positive improvement continues.

Contributed by: Kayla Matthews, a technology writer and blogger covering big data topics for websites like Productivity Bytes, CloudTweaks, SandHill and VMblog.

 

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