IoT and AI have the twin potential to provide RoI and save life of patients
The basic elements for IoT are relatively inexpensive and platform for it is in place. What is required is a proliferation of use cases and solutions, which are interoperable and governed by some standards. Industry thought leader, Sumit Singh, VP & CIO, Wockhardt Hospitals, shares his perspective on the latest trends with Abhishek Raval
How can the RoI story be built around implementing IoT. Please give some examples in the healthcare sector?
The Andhra Pradesh government deployed IoT sensors across a wide geographic area for the purpose of early detection of mosquitoes. These miniature devices utilized IoT communication and a cloud based data store and were shown to be very effective in control and prevention of vector borne diseases. Further, the spraying to eliminate the mosquitoes were geographically focused, thus reducing their widespread use of chemicals.
Recently, tracking in real-time is a real example that is deployed at quite a few hospitals successfully. It requires a few basic elements like RFID tags and a good Wi-Fi infrastructure coupled with a cloud based smart application. This can track both devices/assets, as well as the deployed manpower within the hospital. The application then pinpoints what is in use where, along with where the precious hands are engaged. The data flow is continuous and can be viewed at a command center or by anyone who is given access. Additionally, a messaging component to assign tasks to the workforce is also provided. This has allowed for better utilization and even reductions while actually improving quality and satisfaction.
Quick RoI has also been demonstrated. Ambulances are also leveraging connected IoT devices to provide important clinical parameters to the hospital prior to the critical patient reaching the hospital. This life saving aspect of IoT has proven its mettle repeatedly in the recent past.
Which are some of the top opportunities of using IoT in the hospital / healthcare sector?
IoT, Big Data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence are a great fit together. They are already feeding each other and would continue to do so. Together, they can provide new insights in all aspects of care and operations. A hospital is a very dynamic space with numerous permutations and combinations requiring quick decision making an absolute must. Managers are greatly assisted if actionable information is available at the fingertips, be it a doctor, nurse or anyone else.
IoT has a big role to play with connected devices and automation providing early insights of a medical event in a ward or an ICU when parameters or trend moves in the wrong direction. Likewise, providing quality care also depends on drugs, consumables and devices, which requires and ties up lot of investment and working capital. With these four elements working together, there is huge scope in running a more efficient and smooth operation and passing the benefits downstream.
As far as the pricing of the IT hardware, software and the associated infrastructure needed to run such technologies, have they reached a reasonable pricepoint to go mainstream?
While being cost conscious, healthcare is a segment that respects innovation. If new innovation shows competitive advantage, organizations are willing to get on board at a quicker pace. Further, patients are willing to bear a portion of the cost for better results as well. Besides this, economy of scale kicks in quickly as the patient volume is very high. The basic elements for IoT are relatively inexpensive and the platform for it is in place. What is required is a proliferation of use cases and solutions, which are interoperable and governed by some standards. Interestingly, startups are seen to be more imaginative and innovative whereas the established players look a bit slow to catch on.
What are some of the top challenges with IoT technology, given the highly regulated scenario that hospitals operate in?
IoT has set in motion, a series of creative destruction that is going to radically change quite a few processes inside a hospital. Today all hospitals are moving into evidence based practice and those who are further along this path are able to provide better outcomes. No one wants to be left behind in this endeavor. Therefore, while the desire to get on the IoT bandwagon is very high, some of the important challenges which are yet to be fully sorted out are reliability, seamless interoperability and security amongst channels. Besides this, a very fast and resilient connectivity is necessary. All of this has been shown to work successfully in controlled conditions but yet to mature enough to be set out in the open in a large scale. At this juncture, regulation plays a vital role to keep things honest so that both healthcare institutions and the patient community is reassured. Innovation and regulation move at different pace and that will always be the case. But the promise it holds is so big, it is imperative for all players including the regulators to work and collaborate so that the benefits could then be passed on to both the practitioners and the patients.
What are some of your challenges of handling the huge treasure trove of data. Should it be handled on cloud platforms?
Yes, hospitals and healthcare sector are generating ever-increasing amount of data. Some of this is also required for various compliance purposes. With this mandatory need, organizations are looking at ways to further utilize it for multitudes of additional beneficial purposes. The sector at large, with its limited expertise and resources in IT is often found unable to keep up to manage this increase in a robustly scalable manner.
Cloud has definitely opened up a new possibility where most of the operational aspects in managing then becomes less onerous and is carried out by the cloud partner. However, public cloud is not the only option. Hybrid and private clouds are also choices to go with which may offer some other advantages. Additionally, OEMs are continuing to provide new technology and solutions that are making on premise an attractive alternative as well.
Where do you see the meeting of IoT and AI?
IoT has a symbiotic relationship with AI. Without it, it would be incomplete. The number of connected devices are set to explode in the near future and thus will result in a corresponding rise in data. This data, will result in only digital cacophony by itself. The AI platform is what is required to harmonize all of this and will transform the data into information, which can then be used to convert into meaningful and transformative outcomes.
Please discuss the security aspect in handling IoT devices?
Connected devices, wearables, IoT in healthcare will require a renewed focus on information security and confidentiality. Here too innovation for business outcomes is far ahead of vulnerability and security gaps which typically gets addressed later in the product life cycle. Information security and data protection is an ongoing exercise and it is essential to be continually engaged and watchful as hospitals and healthcare institutions have the fiduciary responsibility to maintain privacy. With the current state of IoT, with the size of the devices, miniaturization and ability, currently it would be prudent to assume that out of the box solutions will be deficient. Hence, additional layers would be necessary to ensure data protection and privacy. It was also the case at the dawn of the Internet age itself, couple of decades ago. However, heightened awareness and progress at the design stage itself is being made now. Over time, the risk would reduce.