The lasting pandemic has boosted the demand for wearables, remote monitors, and telemedicine. At the same time, it has also raised the urgent need to tackle and capitalize on the mountains of data that these devices provide. Healthcare providers need a solution to help them access all healthcare data for one patient in a single place in order to see the whole medical picture and get better insights.

Let’s see how IoT companies can help integrate unstructured and scattered data from existing IoT devices like vital signs and MRI systems into a single smart platform.

Importance of Medical Device Integration

Medical devices generate a vast ocean of data. These include measurements, waveforms, alarms, and device settings. A single patient needs multiple IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) solutions to monitor their health parameters: body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose, and oxygen saturation of the blood. All this information comes from disparate systems varying in technical complexity, transparency, and accessibility.

The majority of healthcare providers use EHR/EMR systems to track patient health information. A single electronic health record is a collection of patient data stored in a digital format. It can contain diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, immunization dates, allergies, radiology images, and laboratory results.

By connecting to EHRs, medical devices can enrich health data with real-time vital signs. Medical staff use this data to analyze health parameters and make decisions. It is also possible to share this data with other stakeholders—labs, medical imaging facilities, pharmacies, and workplace clinics.

Thus, IoT companies and startups can help hospitals collect patient data and feed it to EHR/EMR systems to create an integrated, unified solution. With medical device integration, hospitals get a unified system with convenient and secure access to healthcare information.

Moreover, the healthcare industry has definite potential to automate hospital routines. A McKinsey research study estimates that a third of workflow is highly susceptible to automation, and data collection is at the top of the list. Just imagine: nurses spend about two-thirds of their time collecting health data. The pandemic makes such inefficient person-to-person routines increasingly risky.

Types of Devices to Integrate

There is no one-size-fits-all option to establish connections among all healthcare solutions given their diverse functions, interfaces, and operational systems. Let’s take a closer look at medical devices within hospital facilities that may benefit from integration into a single system:

  1. Vital signs monitors. These devices usually collect measurements on body temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure. Glucometers and heart rate monitors generate sensitive data that require quick analysis and immediate decisions. When vital signs are connected, the software can collect data from machines and warn when something goes wrong. As a real-world example, repetitive false alarms or false readings of monitoring solutions may cause nursing assistants to ignore these signals. A solution that controls all the devices could identify significant cases.
  1. Telecare devices. These solutions facilitate doctor-patient communication and extend care delivery beyond hospital walls. Wireless nurse call systems and wearables for patient rehabilitation are just some examples. When connected, in-home devices can transmit data to the hospital EHR.
  1. Medication trackers. These are frequently used in hospitals, nursing homes, and at home. One example is a smart infusion pump for medication delivery. Before this technology, nurses had to set up infusion pumps with buttons, which could be confusing because there were multiple devices in use. When everything is integrated, it’s possible to operate each medical device remotely. This secure solution allows medical professionals to send medication doses automatically from the EHR to the pump. There are also smart medication trackers for home use including pill dispensers, smart inhalers, and smart injectors. Synced applications let caregivers and medical staff guide care and see the tracking history.

The more solutions a hospital facility has, the more challenges data integration can bring. Thus, the task is to standardize all the healthcare information from various sources and provide a single, easy-to-use system for exchanging this data.

Crucial Aspects of Medical Device Integration

Integrating devices with EHR/EMR systems require work at various levels, ranging from developing software to building a network of gateways for data exchange. The final product may use multiple protocols to talk to hospital devices and deploy middleware to communicate with the EHR. However, this solution will still be able to run on standard computing platforms.

Here are the five most crucial aspects of efficient integrations:

  • Considering various communication capabilities. Smart pumps, smart beds, and patient monitors differ by their communication capabilities. They can be wired, wireless, or both. The first task is to connect all the necessary data to an EHR. Then it’s necessary to unite operating data running from connected medical devices and historical entries. All this helps add context to health data and understand it more accurately. 
  • Taking into account the limitations of the software. Not all devices can be fully or directly integrated. For example, EHR systems can hardly decipher reams of data from electrocardiograph monitors, but it’s possible to capture and store images of the waveform.
  • Defining data storage. It’s essential to understand all types of data in use and the requirements for their processing at a particular healthcare institution in order to choose the most suitable database type. Creating the infrastructure to store, analyze, and process data is a must.
  • Protecting data. This means providing an EHR system with safeguards for confidentiality, security, and integrity of clinical records. In particular, tech vendors integrating medical devices must comply with FDA requirements in order to mitigate the risks related to data use.
  • Integrating AI. It’s possible to get not only raw data but also analyzed information from all monitors and devices. Engineers can integrate AI methods into the system and feed the data to a neural network. In particular, machine learning algorithms can extract and generalize hidden patterns and abnormalities that are sometimes difficult for a diagnostician to find.

Key Challenges of Medical Device Integration

The process of integrating scattered medical devices rarely goes smoothly. Data may not be interoperable, which causes trouble. Local hospital databases also differ from each other. Thus, IoT companies may face many challenges. In particular, they must resolve security concerns and issues with legacy equipment.

Legacy equipment. Lots of legacy systems still exist in hospital facilities. Part of the problem is their poor ability to generate data. Such devices may require stable investments and tech efforts to change this. But there is a smart alternative to costly equipment replacements. Consider retrofitting dumb machines. This process often involves adding sensors, connectivity, and additional hardware and software components to existing equipment.

The other problem is the vulnerability of old devices to cyber attacks. Tech vendors are limited in their ability to protect solutions developed without a security-first approach. For example, malware threats put IoT devices at risk when embedded and mobile software updates are absent.

Vulnerability to hackers. In general, IoT medical devices are the main target for cyberattacks. Infusion pumps, implantable devices, and wireless vital monitors are the most hackable solutions today. This is a real problem, and large organizations like the FDA do a lot to help protect healthcare information. They analyze security risks for different companies and give warnings about potential threats. In 2017, they cautioned about the vulnerability of St. Jude Medical’s cardiac devices. A similar alert was issued about the weak security of Medtronic insulin pumps.

Therefore, when it comes to device integration, security must be the top priority. As one option, engineers can reconsider the security of each IoT solution. A zero-trust approach can help with this. As another option, the process of integration can help enhance  overall security posture. Using reliable and secure systems to connect medical devices mitigates security risks.

Regulation-Based Data Interoperability

IoT medical devices generate lots of sensitive information. To protect healthcare data, IoMT solutions must comply with a variety of industry-specific standards and regulations. This includes HIPAA, HL7, GMP, DICOM, and FDA requirements. Some of these regulations help simplify the process of medical device integration. For example, DICOM refers to the integration of all medical imaging devices supporting the same file format.

A new FDA initiative requires manufacturers to identify medical devices sold for patient use. This system could improve the way devices are managed. An individual device label should include a unique device identifier (UDI), which is available to read by both humans and machines.

Some guidelines are optional. For instance, compliance with the Continua Design Guidelines indicates that a personal medical device enables secure and interoperable data exchangeThe program validates the protection of data flows among sensors, gateways, and services. This initiative drives manufacturers to develop solutions based on a common communication platform.

Benefits of Medical Device Integration

Let’s take a look at the advantages of integrating IoT medical devices within hospital facilities. Here are the main benefits integration brings to the healthcare sector:

Higher accuracy. Integration of devices into a united system helps physicians make more accurate decisions because they access the patient’s general health information and have all details on previous procedures. These include treatment plans, radiology images, and laboratory results. Additionally, device integration helps reduce errors made by nursing assistants collecting health information manually.

Speed. Intelligent device integration shortens the time necessary for physicians to make decisions. There is no need to search for patient data across all devices. When everything is united, doctors access the details of the patient’s health immediately. Laboratory results, MRI images, and medical therapy from other clinics are at their disposal. Thus, it reduces the time for analyzing this data and deciding what works best for individual patients.

Optimized workflow. Overall, medical device integration is not only about the connection between vital signs, in-home monitors, and medication trackers. IoT companies help healthcare providers integrate the whole workflow within hospital facilities. This workflow should become precise, efficient, and hack-proof. Hospitals will be interested in this evolution, especially if they can save time and money and see improved outcomes.

Automation and productivity. IoT device integration both shortens the time medical staff spend on documenting patient data and helps nurses find the devices they need. A survey showed that one-third of nurses spend more than an hour per shift looking for medical equipment.

In the meantime, IoT systems offer automated hospital inventory management instead of manual asset tracking. It is also a useful tool to control all connected sections in the hospital. Medical personnel don’t need to appear in front of various ventilation pumps or vital signs monitors to check the results—everything is available remotely.

Bottom Line

Health data integration is the next step in the evolution of healthcare IoT. Vital signs monitors, medication trackers, and telecare devices can be united into a single, easy-to-use platform. As a result, intelligent device integration increases speed in making medical decisions, optimizes workflow within and beyond hospital facilities, and contributes to higher accuracy and productivity. This benefits everyone involved—from patients to healthcare providers and IoT companies that integrate unstructured and scattered data from multiple IoT devices.

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