As internet of things (IoT) devices become more common and edge computing applications expand to accommodate them, many industries are thinking of ways to make the best use of this technology. The healthcare industry may not always be associated with the latest innovations in IT infrastructure, but it stands to benefit immensely from the expanded use of IoT devices and edge computing.
Providing quality healthcare to isolated rural areas has been a challenge throughout history. Even today, with innovations in telemedicine and more readily accessible health data, medical providers have struggled to deliver fast, quality care to people who live far from hospitals and have limited internet access. Traditional healthcare databases face significant challenges here due to connectivity issues, but the combination of IoT devices and edge computing applications can make it easier to overcome these difficulties.
Portable IoT devices developed by edge computing companies have the ability to gather, store, generate, and analyze critical patient data without needing to be in constant contact with a network infrastructure. Patients with wearable medical devices can be diagnosed quickly and effectively on-site, and the information gathered from them can be fed back into the central servers whenever connections are reestablished. By interfacing with an edge data center, IoT devices can extend the reach of existing networks, enabling medical personnel to access critical patient data even in areas with poor connectivity. This is just one of the edge computing use cases that has the potential to greatly expand the reach of healthcare services.
A range of IoT devices such as wearable sensors, blood glucose monitors, and healthcare apps have become far more common over the last decade, all of them collecting massive amounts of Patient Generated Health Data (PGHD) that makes it possible for medical professionals to better diagnose problems and monitor patient health over long periods of time.
Or rather, these devices create the potential for improved outcomes.
The massive amount of data being produced by these devices may be valuable, but it’s also creating a challenge for the healthcare providers tasked with managing it. Much of this data is unstructured and poorly defined, flooding into cloud infrastructures that are often not prepared to run the powerful analytics programs needed to organize it in ways that can be easily utilized. By the time data generated by IoT devices is fed back into a central server to be properly analyzed and sorted, it may be too late to respond to sudden changes in a person’s condition.
Edge computing applications have the potential to solve this data problem. By retaining much of the critical processing tasks on the devices located on the edge of the network, healthcare IT architectures can still gain the benefit of gathering health-related data while also getting the rapid, real-time analytics that can predict and respond to health emergencies. Healthcare IoT devices can analyze a person’s current condition and send alerts the moment anomalies are detected, allowing for rapid response times that may well save their life. In the meantime, the device can continue to feed non-critical data gathered over time to be sorted and processed by the network’s more powerful central servers or data centers operated by edge computing companies.
Going to the hospital doesn’t have to be an unpleasant or frustrating experience. From smart devices that allow people to check in for appointments whenever they like, to notifications that guide them through an unfamiliar facility to find the proper office, IoT devices are among the key edge computing use cases that have the potential to completely transform the healthcare industry’s customer experience.
With so many devices providing assistance to patients and making their experience more convenient and accommodating, edge computing companies will play a far more integral role in healthcare IT infrastructures. Many hospitals have taken to offering streaming content services to patients, providing everything from movies and games to interactive educational programs. Edge data centers can help decentralize this content and make it available more widely with minimal latency.
One of the more exciting edge computing use cases involves industry supply chains. Today’s hospitals and healthcare centers are technological marvels, filled with cutting edge medical devices and computer hardware used to provide the very best care possible. They’re also stocked with less sophisticated, but no less important, medical equipment used in everyday procedures to save lives. Keeping these facilities running is a massive logistical task. From expensive mechanical components for robotic-assisted surgery tools to the smallest bandage, any disruption to the supply chain that keeps them running creates significant risks to health outcomes.
Sensor-equipped IoT devices have the potential to revolutionize the way medical facilities manage their inventories. Devices gathering data on usage patterns can utilize predictive analytics to determine when hardware is likely to fail while inventory management based on smart RFID tags can eliminate time consuming paperwork and manual ordering. Fleet vehicles equipped with GPS and other sensors can track the location of critical shipments in real-time. For organizations struggling to control rising costs, IoT supply chain innovations offer an opportunity to gain operational efficiencies on the margins and represent one of the more compelling edge computing use cases.
Speaking of cost savings, analysts predict that the widespread adoption of IoT devices can help health care organizations save up to 25% of their business costs. Some of these savings will come from day-to-day applications like security and surveillance or smart building controls, but the real innovation could come from patient monitoring and engagement. Wearable devices, implantable sensors, and streamlined services based on big data analytics are among the edge computing use cases that could significantly reduce per patient costs across the care continuum.
Interconnectivity is another potential source of cost savings. Medical providers have long been plagued by incompatible systems and burdensome recordkeeping that could be all but eliminated by networks of IoT devices and edge computing applications that communicate quickly and easily across organizational boundaries. With rising costs posing an ongoing threat to people’s access to healthcare services, any innovations that could help boost efficiencies and deliver better value are sure to be embraced quickly.
While IoT devices are already becoming quite common, they have yet to scratch the surface of their full potential. As the quantity of devices continues to increase and place additional burdens on network data infrastructures, edge computing examples will soon be found throughout medical IT strategies. The healthcare industry stands to benefit immensely from both developments, and the one-two punch of IoT and edge computing is sure to deliver key advantages in the future.