Guest Column | June 22, 2017

Harnessing The Power Of IoT For Efficiency In Healthcare Systems

Field Service Predicted To See M2M And IoT Growth

By Dan McGinn, director of secure power systems, Schneider Electric

In the age of mobile applications and constant connectivity, today’s patients expect the same level of technology and on-demand information in a healthcare environment as they have at home. Immersed in the world of integrated, interconnected networks via the Internet of Things (IoT), technologies such as wearable activity trackers, online doctor-patient communication portals, and surgical robots are redefining the healthcare industry.

According to a Connected Health survey conducted by the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS), more than half of hospitals in the U.S. currently use three or more connected technologies. This rapid increase in connected devices produces a continuous feed of data that can benefit patients, doctors, and health systems alike. However, it also presents new challenges as healthcare providers work to maintain and process this information, and it is critical that healthcare facilities have the infrastructure in place to support growing data loads.

Beyond improving patient experiences and easing operations, a strategy to support IoT expansion is prudent, especially when it comes to the mission critical requirements of system reliability and preventing facility downtime. By implementing a next generation IoT strategy, healthcare providers and IT and facilities managers will be able to thrive at every level. From patient health to power reliability in a hospital, IoT deployment delivers tangible benefits to patients, medical staff, and facility managers.

Greater Reliability For Healthcare Systems

As more information becomes available through connected devices, the healthcare space becomes ever more reliant on data for efficient and reliable operations. As a result, system availability and bandwidth become major concerns. With information streaming from a wide variety of connected devices across a healthcare facility, IT managers are struggling to keep up in an environment that demands data sharing and analysis in real time. To support today’s needs and prepare for the future of IoT applications, IT managers should consider standard architectures for edge infrastructure.

As part of a larger cloud architecture, an edge IT deployment places remote IT or micro data center assets inside a health facility at a logical end-point of a network, as opposed to a central data warehouse. As a result, data is closer to end users and devices, such as IoT sensors.

In today’s world, designing, deploying and managing IT assets in a remote edge manner can be relatively easy, even within existing environments. Such an approach provides for lower latency — giving both medical and IT staff the real-time information needed to improve patient experience and facility operations. Additionally beneficial within a health facility’s network, edge micro data centers have the scalability needed to manage data overflow and ease the load on other facility systems as patient information continues to grow. By bringing the processing point closer to the end user, content can be deployed rapidly to numerous devices, relieving hospital network congestion as more and more data becomes available.

Implementing an edge IT strategy is also beneficial to a healthcare facility’s uptime. If a local outage occurs within a health system, it will be isolated to specific edge computing devices and the applications on those devices, as opposed to all applications running on a centralized data center. As a result, providers remain connected to the tools they need to deliver superior patient care. Also, while cloud and colocation data centers are highly reliable, the infrastructure between the cloud and edge applications can be a source of downtime. Combining edge IT with a cloud strategy can provide some level of redundancy for the highest availability.

Always-On Connectivity

As hospitals develop an IoT strategy, the data leveraged from intelligent devices becomes more and more critical to productivity and competitiveness. As a result, network availability and power reliability become necessary for accessing this data for a health system’s livelihood, particularly in critical care departments such as emergency rooms, operating rooms, and intensive care units. High quality care for patients is every hospital’s number one priority. Dependable power monitoring technology, together with effective design, operation, and maintenance of backup power systems, are paramount to ensure patient safety and satisfaction.

Often, the most practical approach for power reliability is to combine local uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) for power to intelligent devices, with a more centralized power system to support the IoT network infrastructure. A UPS provides backup power solutions for healthcare systems and enables providers to protect patients and important assets in the event of an unexpected power disturbance.

With increased IoT implementation, more collaboration will be required within the IT teams of a hospital to ensure protocol is in place in terms of backup power deployment to critical systems and intelligent devices. Through collaboration, hospital IT and data center managers will be able to contribute more to the proactive management of a health system and remote IoT assets. With the ability to monitor UPSs and other solutions holistically, hospital IT managers can identify problem points as they occur. This helps ensure power is available and functions efficiently as the number of connected devices grows. As such, healthcare facilities can avoid costly downtime, ensure patient safety through critical power supply and monitoring, and improve operational efficiency with real-time data from connected products.

Preparing For The Future Of IoT

From monitoring equipment to medical diagnostics, IoT is defining a new degree of operational intelligence and driving the next generation of patient care. Patients expect on-demand information, anytime and anywhere. Healthcare providers must develop a deeper understanding of a data-driven environment and use that data to provide improved patient care and additional patient value. As providers advance their strategies to support the growing number of IoT devices and applications, health systems must ensure their IT infrastructure is ready. For facility managers, an edge IT strategy helps to process increased data and provides enhanced functionality to support more informed and faster decision-making when it comes to critical IT equipment and facility uptime.

About The Author

Dan McGinn is the director of secure power systems at Schneider Electric. In this role, he is responsible for business development strategies and execution in the area of UPS and related technologies for the industry and infrastructure spaces. McGinn has over 20 years of experience in process automation, energy management, and manufacturing IT systems with extensive experience in the application of UPS technology. He earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.