IoT Blog

How the Internet of Medical Things Is Transforming Health Care

Patient Monitoring, Connectivity, Ready To Connect, IoT

Robin Duke-Woolley

Robin Duke-Woolley

Founder and CEO, Beecham Research Ltd

Health care providers are increasingly using networked monitors, scanners and other connected medical devices to collect and transmit patient data to their IT systems in ways that increase patient safety, improve patient outcomes, and optimize health care processes. Using these connected medical devices, health care professionals can access data that helps them prepare the next treatment steps, secure the necessary resources for treatment, monitor and remotely respond to changes to their patients’ conditions, and automatically create relevant health care treatment documents.

The result is a new Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) – a connected infrastructure of devices, software, hardware, and services to process and analyze data for decision making by health care professionals, that is changing the way these professionals deliver medical care.

What Type of Connectivity Does the Internet of Medical Things Need?

Hospitals today use a variety of different short-range and long-range wireless technologies to collect and transmit data for this new IoMT. In most cases, Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity (and sometimes both) are the two connectivity technologies they rely on to transmit this data. Yet, there are indications that Wi-Fi is struggling to meet health care providers’ IoMT connectivity needs.

For example, my firm, Beecham Research recently conducted a survey of IoT users using Wi-Fi in a variety of different locations – including high-intensity locations like hospitals.

In the survey:

  • 59% of respondents stated their Wi-Fi network needs to operate in outdoor locations (for example, connecting to ambulances), but 56% of those who need their Wi-Fi network to work outdoors say it has difficulties in doing so.
  • 63% of respondents stated that their Wi-Fi network needs to connect with movable devices, yet 94% of those needing connectivity with movable devices stated that sometimes their Wi-Fi networks experience a loss of connection (and therefore data) to these movable devices.
  • 54% of respondents said there were blind spots at their location with no Wi-Fi coverage.
  • 50% said they experienced interference problems with their Wi-Fi networks.

These survey results show that health care and other users often experience significant ongoing reliability issues related to using Wi-Fi for connected medical devices.

Many of the issues are inherent to the technical design of Wi-Fi networks themselves. For example, large sites require many more Wi-Fi access points than cellular networks do, and roaming between Wi-Fi access points is not what the technology was built to do. In the case of a hospital, this means Wi-Fi has difficulty in delivering a continuous stream of patient-related data as a patient is moved from an ambulance to the emergency room to an intensive care unit. Cellular networking technologies, designed for roaming, have an easier time in maintaining a secure, continuous data stream as a patient is moved from outside a hospital to various locations within a hospital.

Other issues with Wi-Fi were revealed by our firm’s individual interviews with major medical equipment suppliers, including lack of stability and devices that simply fail to connect. These and other problems with Wi-Fi are increasingly leading many medical device manufacturers to include embedded SIM cards in their vital sign monitors, infusion pumps, ICU ventilators and other medical devices, so that they can use cellular connectivity. Medical devices manufacturers are now increasingly expected to include cellular connectivity in their medical devices. When they don’t, indications are that hospitals in the near future will increasingly skip over them when conducting medical device bidding processes.

Ready-to-Connect Addresses the Growing Demand for Cellular Connected Medical Devices

One way for medical device manufacturers to easily address growing demand for cellular connectivity is with plug-and-play solutions like Sierra Wireless’ Ready-to-Connect solutions. Ready-to-Connect solutions come with pre-integrated, pre-tested, and pre-secured components, removing many of the difficulties associated with ensuring device interoperability and security. As a plug-and-play solution, Ready-to-Connect helps reduce complexity at every point in the IoT stack -- from connected medical device to cloud to a hospitals’ central IT system.

Sierra Wireless’s Ready-to-Connect modules, gateways, and routers also include access to Sierra Wireless Smart Connectivity service, which helps further simplify development and deployment of connected medical devices. Smart Connectivity delivers medical device manufacturers a tightly integrated and secure data stream from their devices to the cloud. In addition, Smart Connectivity includes embedded SIMs (eSIMs) pre-integrated inside Ready-to-Connect devices that can be activated over-the-air anytime, anywhere. This reduces the need for medical device manufacturers to provision connectivity for each of their devices, while also reducing opportunities for device connectivity problems to arise. In addition, Ready-to-Connect solutions provide customers with one point of accountability if they experience any connectivity problems – helping them reduce the time it takes to identify the root cause of any connectivity anomalies or outages with their devices.

Medical device manufacturers can also use Ready-to-Connect solutions to bring their products to market faster. Often, integrating all the components of an IoT solution can be a complex and time-consuming task. Sierra Wireless’ Ready-to-Connect solutions let IoT teams skip many of the complicated, time consuming steps commonly associated with this integration phase, thanks to pre-connected modules and routers, equipped with an integrated global eSIM. Ready-to-Connect solutions further simplify development and deployment by including Sierra Wireless’s IoT platform, which customers can use to securely manage their devices, connectivity, and application data.

For more details on how the Internet of Medical Things is changing health care, read our report, Transforming Medical Care with Connectivity.

Start with Sierra to learn more about how Sierra Wireless’ Ready-to-Connect and other solutions enable medical device manufacturers and others in the health care industry to use the IoT to improve patient outcomes with higher quality care.

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