The IoT can save lives, but only if medical devices can share data.
If you’re wondering about the potential value of the Internet of Things (IoT), consider the ultimate benefit it could deliver: saving up to 400,000 lives a year, in the United States alone. That’s the estimate of the number of people who die in hospitals each year due to preventable medical errors.
The advent of accessible IoT technologies has the potential to remedy this, by enabling real-time monitoring and analysis from the various medical devices and systems that get hooked up to patients and generate data on their well-being.
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A new testbed being launched under the auspices of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) seeks to improve the accuracy, speed and quality of healthcare being provided to patients. The new testbed, launched in partnership with Real-Time Innovations (RTI), Infosys, PTC and the Massachusetts General Hospital MD Plug-and-Play Lab, is designed to develop an open Internet of Things (IoT) data management and analytics platform for clinical and remote medical devices.
The system will gather and process patient monitoring data to improve patient care in both hospitals and home care environments.
Phase one of the Connected Care testbed project begins immediately with the integration of the various partner technologies and products into a solution stack. The initial remote care sites are a single volunteer household for home care and the Massachusetts General PnP laboratory for clinical care.
“This is really getting everything integrated, and taking to each other,” says Brett Murphy, director of business development at RTI. The MD PnP lab has an intensive care unit (ICU) mockup for such testing, he states. The next step is to “find a live clinical setting or hospital setting,” he says.
Medical Device Integration
At the core of the effort is the Integrated Clinical Environment (ICE) standard, intended to support clinical and hospital device communication. The ICE standard is still in its formative stages and is still subject to testing, Murphy states.
A challenge is to get equipment manufacturers engaged with ICE, he observes. “What we will have to do is integrate the devices into a common communications bus” – to support common clinical devices such as blood oxygen, pulse rate and blood pressure monitors.
“We’ve created little mini gateways that speak whatever that device’s interface is,” he explains. The ICE is built on the Data Distribution Service (DDS) standard, successfully employed across a number of industries, now being applied to complex hospital environments.
Ultimately, native integration of these devices with a common standard such as ICE and DDS is preferable to intermediary gateway approaches, Murphy continues. The standard opens up a range of devices beyond the ICU to a common information-sharing fabric.
“You might have a Fitbit activity monitor, you might have a blood pressure monitor that comes online every now and then,” says Murphy. Even highly mobile devices are part of this scenario – “we actually have a customer that’s doing data collection from in-ambulance devices. That’s an emergency situation, and integrating that data with what happens at the hospital, making that all seamless, has a lot of patient outcome and patient-safety advantages.”
The advent of accessible IoT technologies has the potential to deliver significant benefits to the healthcare system, but the slow pace of technology adoption and proprietary solutions from medical device manufacturers makes it difficult to put the standards in place. The challenge is “to integrate data from lots of different medical devices,” he says. “If you look inside an ICU right now, you see that is somebody is constantly looking at the screen on the front of the device. It’s a human integration effort. When they get back to the nurses station, they have all these different readouts.”
Murphy hopes to see the same kind of industry-wide adoption as seen in other industries, such as the utility sector with its SmartGrid initiative. The healthcare also has some unique challenges of its own that need to be layered on top of such initiatives, particularly in terms of mandated privacy and security requirements.
“You can see integration across different closely related domains. That’s the promise of the Industrial Internet of Things — being able to integrate across domains. We are imagining different use cases. For example, you may have remote clinics or rural hospitals and you want to have access to telemedicine, and you want to bring a specialist into the caregiving process.”
Of course, evangelizing and developing an entire new ecosystem no small task, as developers, manufacturers and healthcare providers all need to be on board and engaged in building and deploying potential applications.
“The first steps of the testbed are a little more manageable,” Murphy relates. “That is to integrate, to interface to these different devices, translate into an open architecture, and do integration around that open architecture. That’s doable. What gets interesting is if you can get medical devices to speak or to talk that interface, the ICE, or some home medical device interface. That requires strong industry movement.”