Implementing IoT in health and life sciences

Many healthcare providers, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies are looking to IoT technologies to reduce costs, improve patient outcomes and keep workers safe. But how can they ensure successful deployment?

Sally Frank
By Sally Frank on 19 November 2020
Implementing IoT in health and life sciences

I spend a lot of time talking about the internet of things (IoT) with leaders in the health and life sciences industries. I typically start with discussions that highlight trailblazing companies or new technologies which can be used to solve specific problems, improve patient outcomes, uncover new revenue streams or reduce costs. Invariably, these lively discussions result in the customer asking, “Well, that sounds great. How do we get started?” 

For many organisations and their leaders, the first IoT project is crucial to long-term success, both personally and organisationally. So, how does a team at a health provider, medical device manufacturer or pharmaceutical company get started? As the health and life sciences industries seek to be more effective and efficient, and keep workers safe in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the desire to apply IoT technology to tackle these new complexities has soared. 

However, the devil is in the details when moving from vision to reality. In my experience, there are several characteristics that lead to successful IoT projects, including: building an interdisciplinary team, selecting a problem that IoT can solve, identifying consistent and repeatable patterns, integrating applicable regulations at the design level, and ensuring accountability.
 
Building an interdisciplinary team
Technology people get inspired by technology – it’s in their DNA; however, a successful IoT project is a transformational project that affects how the entire organisation runs, which is why all the process owners also have to be part of the solution development effort. On so many occasions, a purely technical proof-of-concept (POC) is initiated and fails because there is no business driver or sponsor. The result is a disenchanted technology team, uncertainty about the technology itself, and time and money wasted. 

But including your business peers may not always be enough. I encourage my healthcare and life sciences customers to also include clinicians and end users, especially for any solutions that may ultimately affect patient care.

Selecting a problem that IoT can solve
Once you have your interdisciplinary team organised, the next important factor leading to success is certainty that the technology can actually solve the problem. This means that your team members need to share their perspectives and agree upon how success is defined. This can include documenting key performance indicators , whiteboarding workflows, cataloguing expected improvements or savings, and surveying key stakeholders. If the team’s expectations fit the capabilities of the technology, then you have the right tools for the job.

Integrating applicable regulations at the design level
Those of us applying technology to the healthcare and life sciences industries must work under greater regulation and scrutiny than in other sectors. Therefore, when building solutions, it is imperative that these regulations are integrated into the design and timeline. 

It is also important not to assume that every IoT-enabled device needs revalidation or to be privacy-­compliant. Use the intelligent edge to manage the security of leaf devices (endpoints that aren’t connected directly to the internet), route patient data to a privacy-compliant data store (even on-premises) and separate protected health information from device data that can securely reach the cloud without patient-identifiable data.

Identifying consistent and repeatable patterns
Whether you are part of a medical device company, provider network, or pharmaceutical manufacturer, you don’t want to spend money and time reinventing the wheel. However, in healthcare, corporate growth is often achieved through acquisition. This means you have siloed people building siloed solutions. Furthermore, they often think they are the only ones building an IoT platform. 

In my experience, this is not the case. In fact, I have introduced teams within the same company to one another, to foster cross-business unit collaboration and standardisation. Through these collaborative efforts, there is an opportunity to build a foundational architecture for the entire organisation that is about 50-70 per cent consistent across all lines of business. This means one tool set, one skill set and one training programme – all of which reduces development costs significantly. Additionally, this enables greater employee mobility within the organisation, which may lead to improved job satisfaction and less turnover. 

In addition, by starting with a 50-70 per cent fully vetted architecture, you shorten development time and speed up the time to business value.

Final thoughts: are you building an IoT Centre of Excellence?
If you are doing these things today or plan to follow some, or all, of these suggestions, you may be on your way to developing an IoT Centre of Excellence (COE). Designed to ensure consistent, best IoT practices across the organisation, find economies of scale and shorten time to value, an IoT COE can reduce development costs, offer IoT leadership across the organisation, provide competitive advantage and be the catalyst for innovation and employee retention. 

Sally Frank is an IoT Advisor for health and life sciences at Microsoft

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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