Health-care IoT remains challenged by IT concerns, practitioner buy-in

The use of internet of things technology in medicine is fraught with complications that slows widespread implementation

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Government regulations, safety and technical integration are all serious issues facing the use of IoT in medicine, but professionals in the field say that medical IoT is moving forward despite the obstacles. A vendor, a doctor, and an IT pro all spoke to Network World about the work involved.

Vendor: It's tough to gain acceptance

Josh Stein is the CEO and co-founder of Adheretech, a medical-IoT startup whose main product is a connected pill bottle. The idea is to help keep seriously ill patients current with their medications, by monitoring whether they’ve taken correct dosages or not.

The bottle – which patients get for free (Adheretech’s clients are hospitals and clinics) – uses a cellular modem to call home to the company’s servers and report on how much medication is left in the bottle, according to sensors that detect how many pills are touching the bottle’s sides and measuring its weight. There, the data is analyzed not just to determine whether patients are sticking to their doctor’s prescription, but to help identify possible side effects and whether they need additional help.

For example, a bottle that detects itself being moved to the bathroom too often might send up a flag that the patient is experiencing gastrointestinal side effects. The system can then contact patients or providers via phone or text to help them take the next steps.

The challenges to reach this point have been stiff, according to Stein. The company was founded in 2011 and spent the first four years of its existence simply designing and building its product.

“We had to go through many years of R&D to create a device that’s replicatible a million times over,” he said. “If you’re a healthcare company, you have to deal with HIPAA, the FDA, and then there’s lots of other things like medication bottles have their whole own set of regulatory certifications.”

Beyond the simple fact of regulatory compliance, Stein said that there’s resistance to this sort of new technology in the medical community.

“Healthcare is typically one of the last industries to adopt new technology,” he said.

Doctor: Colleagues wonder if medical IoT plusses are worth the trouble

Dr. Rebecca Mishuris is the associate chief medical information officer at Boston Medical Center, a private non-profit hospital located in the South End. One of the institution’s chief missions is to act as a safety net for the population of the area – 57% of BMC’s patients come from under-served populations, and roughly a third don’t speak English as a primary language. That, in itself, can be a problem for IoT because many devices are designed to be used by native English speakers.

BMC’s adoption of IoT tech has taken place mostly at the individual-practice level – things like Bluetooth-enabled scales and diagnostic equipment for specific offices that want to use them – but there’s no hospital-wide IoT initiative happening, according to Mishuris.

That’s partially due to the fact that many practitioners aren’t convinced that connected healthcare devices are worth the trouble to purchase, install and manage, she said. HIPAA compliance and BMC’s own privacy regulations are a particular concern, given that many of the devices deal with patient-generated data.

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