A nurse or doctor holding a tablet that is connected to the medical internet of things to help patients.
Image: metamorworks/Adobe Stock

At the MedTech Innovation Summit, hosted by Fierce Electronics on November 1, industry leaders met to discuss the future of healthcare as it modernizes. Experts from Amazon Web Services, NXP Semiconductors, Microsoft, L&T Technology Services, Kalypso, OXIO Health, Wind River, Dell and others attended the event to discuss health technology.

The digital transformation has changed healthcare organizations worldwide. While the sector is praised for reaching technology maturity levels, it still faces many challenges. Privacy, compliance, security, IoT connectivity and integration, and how to leverage health data are among the top priorities.

SEE: Hiring Kit: IoT developer (TechRepublic Premium)

Unlike other tech sectors, the healthcare tech industry deals with human health and often with life-and-death decisions on data. Therefore the standards for data, devices, edge and cloud operations are extremely high and regulated. At the event, experts debated the trending solutions and explained how the sector is moving into home care and value-based care models.

Innovations leading global healthcare investments

Dr. Asha D’Souza, head of the Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry at AWS, kicked off the event by talking about innovations, trends and healthcare transformation.

D’Souza explained that as healthcare continues to build a more connected ecosystem, demand increases for integration and for bringing healthcare to patients where they are. Home care and self-monitoring technology for chronic disease patients require an integration that connects providers, payers and pharmacies, D’Souza said.

Another sector that will be transformed by telehealth is clinical trials. Through new medical devices, clinical trials can now be conducted in patients’ homes.

“That is a change, and we will see that increasingly becoming the norm as time goes by,” D’Souza said. “While all this is happening, there is a worldwide pressure to expand access to patients in the emerging markets and underprivileged countries.”

The industry is witnessing the shift of care from hospitals to alternate care sites, patient homes, ambulatory care centers, outpatient centers and specialized clinics.

D’Souza listed the leading trends in global investments, highlighting AI and machine learning models that drive faster and more efficient diagnoses as well as technology that assists the aging population. Additionally, as chronic diseases increase, providers and patients are adopting health wearables, mobile devices and telehealth platforms that can stream on TVs or other devices.

“Medical technology and consumer technology are going to be playing an increasingly important role in the smart wearables — whether it’s our watches, weighing scales or any other means,” D’Souza said. “These devices are becoming more and more intelligent.”

The use of robotics for non-invasive surgeries is another trending sector. The industry is expanding the new approach for smart surgeries where patients can be treated and sent home on the same day. This model reduces hospitalization and healthcare costs while preventing centers from becoming overcrowded and alleviates the demand for health workers and burnout.

“The expectations of our consumers, patients and care providers are changing, and they are looking for more innovative digitally enabled capabilities that deliver differentiated outcomes,” D’Souza said.

It’s not just tech manufacturers and health providers that need to adapt. Regulators witnessing this transformation are trying to streamline their processes to make it easier for the industry to meet computer system assurance and compliance. They are providing device guidance and support to get approval from the FDA, but the regulatory landscape continues to be challenging at this point.

The focus of disruption — digital robotics surgeries, connected and intelligent devices, IoT, AI data-driven decision-making and 3d printing — are also shifting care toward value-based care. Health economics and value and quality of care are two direct benefits of the new technologies.

Additionally, customers are increasingly demanding more than just health solutions. They seek longevity and wellness tech products. Consumers are also on a learning curve to understand how to fully leverage wearables and other health tech devices.

In contrast, D’Souza said that companies need to focus on investing in data platforms and technology infrastructure as well as upskilling and hiring talent that can understand modern healthcare methods.

“It’s important to ensure that we can monitor them remotely and bring data about their health, wellness, medication adherence, pre and post-surgical leaves, and physical therapies,” D’Souza said. “Getting closer to the patient and keeping them at the center of this innovation is a must. None of this happens without staying connected and making this ecosystem more interoperable.”

Understanding and securing the healthcare environment

Cornelius Mueller, product application engineer at NXP Semiconductors, discussed during the event the challenges that the health industry faces as health IoT products rise. While IoT brings the benefits of modernization, speed, agility, and the capability of improving patient outcomes and comfort, they also present risks for compliance, governance, privacy and security.

Understanding the IoT health environment is critical for security. Organizations must identify where the data is collected and transferred and how it flows throughout its entire lifecycle. This includes data sourced from private patients’ homes and public spaces. Infrastructure as a whole needs to be secured.

Mueller explained that data from smart edge devices and multiple sensor data from wearable devices like ECG, blood pressure or glucose meters is gathered and passed over to a phone or gateway wirelessly usually using Bluetooth Low Energy or near-field communication. Similarly, data can be sent for example from a hub to a medical device to control an insulin pump.

In this system, the gateway is the communication system between medical edge devices, the medical cloud and health services. Mobile devices and wearables like smartwatches also connect to health services and are used for self-diagnosis.

Mueller addressed the many challenges that arise when healthcare services and devices expand and the digital attack surface grows.

“A lot of consumer devices do not have security integrated,” Mueller said. “They communicate wirelessly from an app to a hub, and the hub should have the capability for security management. On the other hand, if the end device is used in a public space, which could be anywhere outside the home or hospital, it should be clear that the gateway and that space can be compromised and therefore not be safe.”

The solution is integrating security elements through the systems. Mueller addressed the most popular IoT connectivity methods for hospitals and medical devices — Bluetooth and NFC.

NFC’s short reading distance enhances privacy. Other benefits of NFC are its ease of use and power efficiency. NFC offers secure communication to all users, and it helps in the data transfer through safe channels and the encryption of sensitive information.

IoT connectivity must be secured to prevent data from being accessed by illegitimate users or manipulated. Modern approaches to solving these challenges include controllers that provide secure boot, memory protection and access control. Additionally, data encryption and decryption are key.

To ensure security in health IoT a secure element must be deployed. The secure element will be responsible for encryption processing and credential management. The secure element must execute the processes before the data flows through the gateway. Trust provisioning ensures that no unauthorized individuals access keys and certificates, while cloud security systems verify that the data from the IoT device has not been compromised.

“On the health service side, when the sender data arrives for analysis, the encrypted and signed transmission is verified to check whether the data can be trusted,” Mueller said.

BLE has similar benefits as NFC. The main difference is that BLE is a long-range radio. Long-range radio allows continuous monitoring as sensors collect data and send it instantly to smartphones.

“This has proven to be critical, for example, for insulin pumps, where the blood sugar level needs to be monitored constantly, or for vital sign monitors like ECGs, heart rate monitors or blood pressure devices,” Mueller added.

Secure, zero-touch connections to public or private clouds and edge computing infrastructure are also meaningful. Trusted provisioning assurance ensures that no unauthorized person gets access to certificates.

Keeping data secure throughout its path from sensors to IoT, gateway, edge and the cloud is the only way to mitigate the risks of breaches, security threats, ransomware, manipulation and data exfiltration.

Health shifts to value-based and home care health models

Healthcare is shifting to value-based models that focus on improving the quality of patient outcomes, enhancing patient care and then adopting initiatives that can control costs. Not only is the sector focusing on quality and costs, but inevitably it is moving into homes.

As demand for health services and the gap in care professionals and doctors increases, the industry is focusing on home care and technology to leverage solutions. New wearables allow doctors to care for patients and watch over them whether at home, recovering or in an outpatient mode. Data is the most critical component of home care.

“It will be the technology that is driving these things, whether at smart patient apps or smart implants,” Rajya Bhaiya, senior director of MedTech, Health and Life Sciences Cloud + Data at Microsoft, said during the event. Bhaiya spoke about the benefits of smart implants, which are IoT devices placed inside a patient’s body that allow caregivers to monitor them remotely.

Another severe challenge with IoT health devices is integrating all the data from these devices to be fit for health systems. This means unifying data formats and features and assuring the data is quality and has not been corrupted. Industry health experts urged device manufacturers to meet compliance, consent and other standards required by health organizations.

The industry is also looking into new business opportunities that could be developed thanks to the latest technologies, AI, home care and virtual care. The U.S. sector wants to involve pharma companies, regulators, insurers, Medicare and Medicaid to develop new health solutions.

While modern health technology has undoubtedly changed the way health is provided. It still faces many challenges. Experts at the MedTech Innovation Summit agreed that the future of health is value-based and home-based care. They say it is the next big evolution that the sector is experiencing after the pandemic, and IoT, edge, cloud and innovation are its core foundations.

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