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Article: How IoT Can Revolutionise Water Safety In Healthcare

The Internet of Things (IoT) holds the potential to revolutionise healthcare, including assisting proactively with the management of water systems (such as LinkThru IoT remote monitoring from Cistermiser). Arguably it is one of the most hyped technologies in the world. Name any business sector and you will find articles telling you how the IoT is poised to revolutionise it. However, beneath the publicity is a technology plagued by uncertainty and fragility. It can indeed transform the industry for the better, but it continues to suffer from misunderstanding and a degree of suspicion:

A Brief History of IoT

Like many much-hyped technologies, the IoT has been here much longer than most people are aware. As far back as 1932, JB Nash wrote “within our grasp is the leisure of the Greek citizen made possible by our mechanical slaves.” A glorious vision indeed and one which has not – as yet – come to pass. But it foreshadows the concept of the IoT. It is a world in which multiple devices are connected, sharing information to the common good of all. In 1982 a Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University became the first device to be connected to an internet. It was able to share stocking information across a network. However, the phrase was first coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 who envisaged an internet of things connected by Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices. Today the concept has truly taken off. The IoT market is predicted to reach $250bn in the 2020s. By 2016, Garner had estimated that there were 6.2 billion connected devices in the world by number and by 2020 experts have suggested the total might reach 30 billion. That trajectory is, however, uncertain. At one time the most popular prediction was 50 billion. The fact that such a transformative technology has undershot predictions hints at one of its core weaknesses. While its potential is enormous it has yet to truly fulfil it.

Enormous Potential

To see why, we can look at the world of financial services with technical advances in the insurance sub-sector. Here IoT technology is predicted to be transformative. Insurers are looking to use connected devices gathering information from multiple sources to help them calculate insurance premiums more accurately. The most high-profile example is the use of black box car insurance policies, as promoted by Admiral for example. They gather information about an individual’s driving style and use it to analyse how good a driver they are. It goes beyond old fashioned risk profiling to create a policy which is, in theory, more tailored to the individual and which rewards better drivers. If you’re confident of your driving ability, this is a route to cheaper car insurance. However, there is a problem. Black box has not become the transformative product the insurance industry hoped. Indeed, the IoT remains a technology in which most of the value lies in its potential, and that’s also true of the healthcare sector.

IoT in Healthcare

The potential is enormous. Medical professionals can embed IoT devices in healthcare apparatus allowing them to monitor patients and equipment much more effectively. Remote devices, for example, can help diabetes patients manage their healthcare more effectively from home. They can monitor the location and condition of patients, issuing an alarm if problems arise. When it comes to infrastructure management there are real gains to be had. Devices can be connected, sharing information and reporting back to a central database. Managers can instantly see real-time information about the status of equipment, scheduling repairs and running maintenance operations only when they are needed.

Control Of Water Temperatures

A key area is temperature control of cold and hot water throughout every building. Maintaining a healthy balance of water temperatures is a key weapon against infection. But for all the precautions hospitals take, it is impossible to be 100% certain about the temperature of stored and running water supplies all the time. Inspections and manual recording of data is onerous and costs money. The NHS has developed its Test Beds programme to investigate ways that innovative technology, including IoT, can be integrated into NHS processes. It’s an attempt to realise the vision of the Five Year Forward View to create a ‘the conditions and cultural change necessary to enable proven technologies to be adopted faster.’ Among the first trials was a programme to help patients manage diabetes, data analytics to identify older patients at risk and apps to help mental health patients manage their own conditions in the community.

The potential is enormous. A report from MarketsandMarkets suggests that healthcare IoT could be worth $158bn by 2020 – more than three times the $41.22bn in 2017. That’s a gigantic leap, which brings us back to our earlier point. The market could be enormous but so too could be the potential for disappointment.

There May be Trouble Ahead

For all its benefits, IoT faces some substantial hurdles. Every new technology does, but these are substantial. The first, and most obvious, is cost. NHS Trusts are struggling to find money for even the most basic expenditure. IoT would represent a substantial technological overhaul and, while evidence suggests it will repay that investment many times over, the initial cost will still present a barrier. The second issue is existing IT systems. They increase dramatically the amount of data processed by IT systems and many are not in a position to handle it. Harvesting such data is one thing, but managing it is more than many onsite systems are capable of. As a result, many operators are turning to the cloud – but this brings them into contact with another barrier: data security.

Secure Data

We live in a world of big data and all that information – shared across multiple devices – represents a huge opportunity for everyone. For healthcare managers, it’s a fantastic chance to make significant improvements in the delivery of care. For cyber criminals it’s a lucrative business opportunity. Healthcare organisations are becoming more data hungry and handling vast quantities of sensitive data. At the same time, defences may not be as sophisticated as large corporations or financial services where cybercrime has become one of life’s natural hazards.

Embracing technologies comes with a risk, and the fear of security and privacy issues is holding many managers back.

To fulfil their potential, IoT developers must address their key weaknesses. They must overcome the fear of the new and address the very reasonable concerns of managers about security and privacy. It is both a technological and public relations challenge. Systems must be developed which are fool-proof and which can convince potential users that they are safe to use. The question is how they overcome those fears and how healthcare managers harness the power of IoT and digital technology to meet their key objectives.

A Stand-Alone Solution

The good news is that when addressing the key area of maintaining appropriate cold and hot water temperatures throughout a building’s complex water system, which is essential to safeguard hospital staff, patients and visitors alike, IoT monitoring solutions such as LinkThru use stand-alone radio signalling (using the proven Sigfox wireless network) to transmit constant 24/7 low-cost data recordings to a secure cloud-based portal.

This overcomes a major hurdle when implementing this exciting and powerful new technology. Temperature profile and flow event information is sent to a dedicated software platform with no requirement to integrate or interfere with any on-site IT infrastructure or local networking systems. Security of TMU wireless communications is ensured through an array of features including anti-replay, message scrambling and sequencing. This practical reassurance helps to secure buy-in to invest in IoT monitoring from the various departmental teams across forward-looking Healthcare organisations.

For more information about IoT monitoring from Cistermiser, please visit www.linkthru.com