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What is the best connectivity option for healthcare devices?

Learn about how cellular connectivity is keeping healthcare devices secure and reliably connected.
Healthcare
Maggie Murphy
May 19, 2022
remote blood pressure monitoring

The term ‘healthcare’ covers much more ground than it used to. Gone are the days of only thinking about health when an illness or injury strikes. Instead, today much of healthcare centers around disease prevention and closely monitoring chronic conditions. To achieve this, doctors need to get an accurate and timely picture of what is happening in a patient's body. Thanks to the internet of things, we now have connected healthcare devices that can provide these valuable insights into patient health. Still, for these devices to impact patient care and outcomes, they first need reliable, always on connectivity.

Recommended Reading: Applications of IoT for Healthcare

Why cellular IoT connectivity is the best option for healthcare devices

Given how complex the healthcare system has become, interconnected IoT networks really are the only viable option for healthcare devices in the future. And while there are several connectivity options for these devices, cellular IoT connectivity offers significant advances and capabilities in a number of areas.

Longevity

Consider how annoying it can be to get a new cell phone or computer. You pray that your data moves over properly, that you don’t lose any contacts, and that your network still works on your new system. Now, imagine that you needed surgery every time you had to update. That’s what people with pacemakers have been dealing with for years. When the device wears out, or the software becomes outdated, doctors would have to physically open up the patient and replace the device. IoT can change that. IoT connected pacemakers are in development, and with the remotely programmable eUICC, the device could be reprogramed and updated as needed without invasive surgery. This would significantly increase the lifespan of the device and potentially the patient. Other medical devices could also be updated to fix bugs, keep up with advancements in medicine, and undergo preventative maintenance – all working together to increase the longevity of a device.

Recommended Reading: 5 Benefits of Building with eUICC

Security

Security is a huge concern when it comes to healthcare and IoT. Even small changes can lead to big problems. For example, malware altering the output from an O2 monitor or blood pressure machine could significantly change the dose of a medication prescribed. A compromised MRI machine could lead to a tragic misdiagnosis. That’s why it’s important to make sure an IoT network is up to date both in the devices themselves and in connectivity. Devices with built in monitoring systems can detect any activity by an unverified third party before they can do any harm. IoT networks themselves can also be encrypted to ensure a new level of security with healthcare devices. A secure cellular network can ensure data integrity and privacy.

Reliability and global connectivity

When you visit another country, it’s not uncommon to need to buy a new SIM card for your phone to work on a local network. But that kind of break in connectivity is not an option when a medical device is involved. A major advantage to the adaptability of eUICC used in IoT SIM cards is that it can cope with significant location changes. If you leave the range of your local network, it enters a roaming mode, and so long as there’s a cellular connection, the device will work. It’s not hard to imagine how having a dropped connection with a medical device could have significant consequences. More than that, cellular IoT allows for seamless transitions between networks on a global scale. It changes over in real-time as you move from one network to another. This means that for patients traveling internationally, or those who live in remote locations, the risk of a network problem on their medical device drops significantly. IoT SIM cards also work well with the long-term evolution (LTE) cards of 4G networks, so there should not be an issue even in locations with older network setups,

No configuration or maintenance

One of the major benefits of using cellular IoT for healthcare devices is that very complex devices can be easily set up and used by patients. While patients may need training on the devices themselves, the ease with which the devices can connect to networks makes them accessible to anyone. (https://www.educba.com/iot-protocols/)For example, connecting a blood pressure monitor or an insulin pump to a network is as easy as connecting your phone to a new cell network.

Another key benefit of cellular connectivity for healthcare devices is the added durability and adaptability. Not only is an eUICC-compatible eSIM able to be updated remotely, but because they’re soldered to the motherboard and sealed inside the IoT device, eSIMs are protected against the elements. This is incredibly valuable for devices that have to make it through the wear and tear of working wherever the patient takes them.

Other connectivity options for remote patient monitoring devices

Cellular is not the only option for medical IoT. Other protocols can handle some of the requirements of the healthcare community. Let’s take a look at two of the most common alternative options.

Bluetooth

Common in devices like headphones or computer keyboards, this short-range protocol connects devices to other nearby devices. In the context of healthcare, it's commonly used to link a smaller device to a larger one with greater connectivity. For instance, insulin pumps connect to cell phones through Bluetooth to allow the patient to see that information — but a cell network is still needed to get that information uploaded to their doctor. There are both positives and negatives to this type of network. Some advantages are that Bluetooth is wireless and also does not require a line of sight. It also has very low power consumption — something important in battery-operated devices that dispense medication. But the disadvantages of Bluetooth outweigh the advantages in many cases. One concerning issue is security — since they have a lower bandwidth, they are easier to break into. Interference is also a problem, given that many other devices use similar frequencies. Bluetooth also can’t handle large amounts of data. While Bluetooth is one of the most economical choices, there are many situations — like in a pacemaker or ventilator — where picking up interference and malfunctioning could be catastrophic.

Wi-Fi

Given how common Wi-Fi is in many people’s homes, it seems like a natural option for monitoring patients through IoT. A Wi-Fi connection can handle a lot of data, and it is how most people access the internet, so there is a great deal of familiarity with the system. It’s also fairly secure, with the option to set passwords and other configurable steps to access. But, there are major disadvantages as well. A simple power outage could leave a medical device useless if the router goes out, and there are many places around the world where reliable wifi is hard to find. While some of these downsides might not be dealbreakers, one major issue is that potentially life-saving medical devices won’t work whenever they leave the Wi-Fi range of the patients’ houses. In short, the speed and reliability are there, but not the range.

Benefits of utilizing IoT connectivity in healthcare devices

Beyond the technical aspects, the internet of medical things has major benefits for both patients and medical professionals, leading to better care and healthier lives.

Ideal solution for monitoring patients remotely

In the past, continuous monitoring of health was done in hospitals. Diabetics had to stay overnight hooked to sensors; those with chronic respiratory problems were tied to O2 monitors for days at a time. But cellular IoT connectivity means that these devices will work anywhere with an available cellular connection. The data from these medical devices can be collected remotely, allowing both doctors and patients to act on it when needed — potentially saving lives.

Recommended Reading: The future of remote patient monitoring

IoT healthcare devices improve patient comfort

Cellular IoT can improve patient comfort by allowing patients to monitor conditions in the comfort of their own homes. During the Covid-19 pandemic, hospitals were at capacity, so some implemented remote patient monitoring programs. Patients could use devices like pulse oximeters at home and provide those readings to their care team. Not only did this relieve strain on the hospitals, but patients reported high satisfaction with the program.

Additionally, connected IoT devices improve patient comfort simply because they help prevent illness and painful examination procedures. For example, IoT-connected asthma inhalers can help users recognize trends in their attacks, helping them avoid triggering situations in the future. Ingestible sensors can provide information from inside the body in a way much less invasive than an endoscopy or colonoscopy. The potential for prevention and avoidance of invasive medical procedures and health problems is a major benefit of connected medical devices.

IoT helps nurses & doctors make better decisions

Doctors and nurses can only make good decisions when they have good information. Remote patient monitoring devices, like connected pulse oximeters, EKGs, or glucose monitors, can consistently monitor vital health indicators and provide healthcare teams with far more data than can be captured at a scheduled doctor's appointment. Having more data points can help paint a better picture of overall patient health, potentially catch abnormal readings, and ultimately help the care team create a more tailored treatment plan.

Recommended Reading: Connecting providers and patients

IoT wearable technology provides better monitoring of patients

How these devices integrate with patients’ lives is also important. If they are too inconvenient for patients to use, they are useless. This has led to new and often surprising types of wearable IoT for monitoring health. Wearable headbands use cellular IoT to track REM sleep and send that information to users’ cell phones so they can make better sleep choices. Breast health is being monitored by sensors embedded in a smart bra to identify breast cancer early before it can do much damage. Since these devices are mostly for preventing medical problems, they have to be as easy as possible to use. Often, without obvious illness, people won’t keep a close eye on monitoring their potential health risks. Cellular IoT makes monitoring health less intrusive and more comfortable than ever before.

Recommended Reading: Wearable healthcare technology: 12 incredible IoT applications

Experience secure and uninterrupted coverage with Hologram’s cellular connectivity for healthcare devices

The longevity, security, and reliability of cellular IoT make it the perfect choice for healthcare. More and more companies are entering the market with creative solutions that are helping doctors and patients. While there are other options for remote patient monitoring devices, cellular stands out as the ideal choice. Hologram offers easy, reliable, and versatile cellular IoT connectively for healthcare providers, businesses, and innovators. Get connected today!

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