Digitization has been pushing the boundaries of countless industries and public service sectors. It shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Healthcare is no exception. Any increase in efficiency is crucial for medical professionals trying to save lives and provide proper care to patients.
Along the way, there are several major challenges that hospitals must overcome in order to implement and get the most out of their IoT technologies. Due to the urgency that surrounds public healthcare services, equipment and software for this sector is subject to stringent demands and quality assurance tests. Successfully overcoming these challenges can allow a smart hospital to cut both operating costs and wait times while upping the level of care they provide.
These are the major challenges that engineers, software developers, and administrators must consider when undertaking IoT implementations for smart hospitals.
Involving Hospital Staff in the IoT Development Process
While implementing and creating new IoT technologies within a medical facility, it can be easy to forget about the most important part of the technology: the users. In a hospital setting, the users are the hardworking doctors, nurses, orderlies, and medical staff whose focus is on delivering care to patients.
That means healthcare digitization efforts must focus on making life easier for the user. It also means explaining the benefits of new IoT technologies to hospital staff from the beginning. A nurse or technician will be more inclined to enter a patient number into a vital sign monitor when they understand how that number can be tracked throughout a patient’s time in the hospital. They will also be more inclined to integrate these new processes into their routine by understanding how it makes every other department’s job easier.
Software engineers must also keep in mind that these IoT implementations must reduce the number of tasks that medical professionals must perform. That means that the integration of new IoT sensors and digital technology must be seamless. A sobering report explains that 60 percent of all healthcare digitization projects encounter problems as early as the proof-of-concept phase.
The Upfront Costs of IoT Development
When it comes to healthcare IoT development, the upfront costs for creating, testing, and implementing an application can be an expensive endeavor. Between cuts to the public health sector and increased demand for services from a population that is living longer, getting an IoT project into a smart hospital becomes an exercise in cost-efficiency.
The good news is that once a smart hospital’s healthcare systems are up and running, the costs saved become apparent very quickly. One report stated that over 70 percent of healthcare professionals saw a reduction in costs. That being said, the initial investments can scare public health officials at first. Convincing hospital administrators and financial controllers will require some work and a lot of data to back up these claims.
By backing up claims of efficiency with statistics, case studies and projections on how much a medical facility can save once a program is implemented, engineers and software developers can quell concerns from administrators.
Cybersecurity Concerns & Protecting Patient Health Data
Institutions of all kinds are under constant threat from hackers. Smart hospitals are no exception. It is vital that they be able to keep patient health data and electronic health records secure throughout the ongoing digitization process. Apart from usual identity theft and privacy concerns, smart hospitals have the added risk of catastrophic repercussions in the event that a network or medical device were to be hijacked by an external party.
The addition of 5G technology will only proliferate this issue if it is not addressed from the start. With more devices and users connecting over a constantly growing IoT network, the opportunity to exploit system weaknesses or device sensors using social engineering tactics grows too.
Smart hospitals must consider the adequate security needs their institution will need from the onset during the ideation phase. Creating clear security protocols for hospital personnel and enabling security measures that alert users to health system failures or medical equipment tampering are also crucial to preventing compromises in security and building a secure IoT network.
Maintaining a Strong IoT Network and Dealing with Aging Digital Infrastructures
A successful IoT implementation relies on having a strong digital infrastructure. Unfortunately, healthcare technology is not always updated regularly in the public sector. This can lead to hospital facilities where networks and equipment are running on technology that is already two generations behind. Along with the massive amount of data being collected and stored by IoT in real-time, it becomes clear that a strong IoT network is non-negotiable when undertaking healthcare digitization projects.
That means considering how new IoT sensors can integrate with existing equipment that might have not been updated for several technology cycles and connect with newer equipment too. To create a truly connected IoT ecosystem, older IoT sensors need to be able to sync with newer ones seamlessly.
Software developers also need to consider firmware compatibility across several technologies to guarantee that all IoT sensors can communicate with each other to keep medical professionals up to date. The latest and greatest healthcare apps are of little use if they can’t communicate with other IoT sensors or operate on the same network.
Remaining Proactive and Tackling IoT Integration Issues Head-On
A hospital is an environment that can change without notice. The 2020 pandemic was a perfect example of this. Hospital facilities around the globe were forced to adapt and reevaluate their usual protocols. Additional screening, testing, and disinfecting procedures had
to be undertaken in a very short period. Events like these cannot always be predicted, but they can be proactively addressed by IoT developers and software engineers.
By including healthcare practitioners in the conversation early in the process, these types of issues can be addressed head-on. Developers and engineers who best understand the needs of medical professionals are the ones with the greatest chances of a successful IoT implementation within a smart hospital.
By better understanding the needs of the end-user, medical IoT applications can be built in such a way that they can be adapted to whatever the scenario calls for. A single application can be designed so that it can be used for both emergency surgery or a simple blood test while remaining easy to use.
The worst thing that can happen when developing an IoT application for a hospital is learning afterward that hospital staff dislikes using it because it only slows them down or makes their work harder than it already is. If the application isn’t malleable, there’s a good chance that future developments or updates will not be possible, which will result in it becoming outdated quickly and eventually abandoned for a better solution.
One survey estimated that completed IoT projects within the healthcare sector were only considered successful 26 percent of the time.
Although digital technology has many hurdles to overcome when it comes to healthcare digitization, the advantages to world health and medical professionals are still enormous after a successful implementation. By addressing these challenges ahead of time, healthcare facilities will be able to see the promised benefits ahead of schedule and be in a position to seamlessly integrate new technologies.
For more information on integrating IoT technology into public health facilities, explore the Schneider Electric Exchange community.
A multi-lingual Global Marketing & Digital Communication/Community Management specialist, mostly involved in Sales enablement & Digital transformation. Born in Morocco, grown up in France, studied in England, worked in the US, I like to consider myself as a world citizen who treasures relationship building, intellectual curiosity & learning agility.