When it comes to your health and treatment, hospitals leverage a variety of sensors and instruments to collect the necessary information to monitor and diagnose your health status. With essential health data integrated into one platform, healthcare professionals are able to quickly and easily monitor critical care parameters, which allows them to make decisions and deliver the best possible patient care.
Comprehensive big-picture insight into various health parameters, such as a patient’s temperature, oxygen level, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and more, is vital to gaining a proper understanding of a patient’s health status. But how can people who don’t have the money and resources to integrate those expensive high-tech instruments into their at-home care routine monitor and improve their state of health?
Integrating data from a variety of health-tech sensors and consumer devices in one common display for health status information and care can significantly improve people’s at-home health routines and potentially even save lives.
The Rise in IoT Healthcare Devices
While hospitals have the money and resources to use a variety of Federal Drug Administration-approved sensors and instruments to gain a holistic view of the necessary health data and deliver the best possible care for patients, the consumer care marketplace is not yet that advanced. Consumers can obtain FDA-approved medical devices, but they are typically prescribed by physicians for at-home care.
As IoT devices continue to transform how we live and work, the global digital health market is expected to swell to a $158 billion valuation in 2022. Today, we’re seeing an increasing number of new Internet of Things health devices being developed for the consumer market, including fitness bands, scales, blood pressure cuffs and more. While not as accurate as the instruments used in hospitals, consumer health-tech devices are already providing considerable health and fitness benefits. However, meaningful, actionable data from these disparate sources is not aggregated and therefore cannot be correlated.
Your smartwatch can tell you your heart rate, but you need another band to assess oxygen saturation levels and yet another sensor to take your temperature. Complicating the issue, every healthcare product development company has its own sensors and its own app, and since the health status information is not all aggregated together, it remains siloed away in various devices. However, when all the disparate information can be combined, a user can look for any number of potential issues and either corroborate their suspicions or disprove them.
How Data Integration Can Improve Elderly At-Home Care
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if elderly patients were hooked up to different health-tech devices, wearables and other monitors that leverage machine learning algorithms to come up with an action plan to deliver optimal care? By integrating aggregated health data, medical product developers can leverage the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to act as clinicians and advise users on how to achieve maximum health benefits.
With health-tech devices monitoring an elderly loved one’s heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen rate and sleep rhythms, for example, those devices can aggregate data and leverage AI to communicate early on when there’s a potential problem. Consider an irregular heartbeat as an example. Oftentimes, irregular heartbeats precede actual heart attacks, so transmitting that information to a caregiver who can attend to or check in on your loved one and then refer them to a healthcare professional before a more significant problem arises could help minimize the negative health impact.
By recognizing an irregular heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, a lack of oxygen, or frequent sleep disruptions, AI-powered algorithms can offer remote assistance: “Your blood pressure is a little high. Remember to take your medication.” The data these sensors collect could help a care provider know if elderly patients are taking their medications, getting their daily exercise and so much more.
A combined dashboard that alerts users or family members of potential concerns provides more value faster and is easier than logging into each device’s app or web portal separately. In this ideal world, different health-tech sensors and monitors pool data, users see it consolidated in one place and helpful recommendations are made to optimize health. The opportunities are seemingly endless, but what are the challenges associated with unlocking this type of health data for the consumer market?
Consumer Healthcare Data Integration Challenges
First, the healthcare space is fraught with liability. Once algorithms begin making recommendations, highlighting areas of concern to the user, it can become problematic if there’s a recommendation resulting in a negative health outcome or a lack of guidance when a recommendation should be made.
Due to the sensitive nature of patient information and the vital need for instruments to guarantee statistical compliance, hospitals utilize FDA-approved devices that can be expensive to build because of the regulatory processes required for their development. Since consumer health-tech devices don’t have to ensure the same level of compliance, those products do not need to be regulated by the FDA. While the lack of compliance minimizes some development challenges, consumer care devices still need to collect relatively accurate data to provide meaningful recommendations.
Patient Privacy and Data Security
Healthcare devices deal with sensitive and personal patient information, which is protected by regulations outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The value of personal health data makes it susceptible to cybersecurity attacks, however, there are currently no security standards in place for health-tech devices. When that lack of uniformity combined with different communication protocols and unclear data ownership regulations, it underscores the complex challenges consumer health-tech devices face regarding patient privacy and data security.
Data Integration and Usage
Finally, it will take a significant amount of effort and collaboration to integrate consumer health data from disparate devices into one unified view. Consumer health-tech device makers each have their own proprietary communication protocols, which makes information integration a complex problem for data dashboard manufacturers.
Many healthcare device makers believe owning the consumer’s data is in their own best interest as that approach tends to encourage customers to eventually purchase add-ons to their devices. Additionally, since there is currently no centralized repository to which medical device makers can send the collected data to be aggregated and analyzed, users can only view the trends from those devices in the apps (and web portals) provided by those individual vendors, which makes gleaning legitimate health insights an unnecessarily arduous and time-consuming endeavor.
In modern hospitals, standardization is what enables the seamless integration of a patient’s health status information. Until there are organizations like the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) help improve health outcomes across the consumer care sector, there will be no structure to standardize the information required for collaboration — and at-home health routines will continue to suffer.
Consumer health data integration clearly offers a myriad of benefits, from real-time tracking and reporting to increased opportunities for data analysis and remote assistance. While there are challenges associated with integrating IoT health device data for improved at-home care, bringing hospital-level data integration and legitimate health metrics visibility into the consumer market could help unlock a new world of health information for everyday people.
To be clear, even the world’s most valuable healthcare data is less meaningful when it cannot be aggregated and analyzed to provide actionable recommendations on the most vital and accessible health status information available.
About Pat Black
Leveraging more than 20 years’ experience in the medical device development industry, Patricia (Pat) Black is the director of technical solutions at Cardinal Peak. She has successfully led teams developing and launching medical devices worldwide at companies of all sizes. With over 120 employees, Cardinal Peak leverages deep design and engineering expertise in hardware, embedded software, mobile and cloud-connected applications to deliver technologies revolutionizing healthcare.