IoMT could help reduce costs and improve patient management in healthcare settings, but hospitals and medical organizations must pick the right network technology and management tools to securely and dependably transmit data. They must consider what kind of sensors, wireless communication protocols, gateways and monitoring tools they need to set up a secure and effective IoMT network.
Internet of medical things (IoMT) systems have only come about in the last decade as people started to use wearable devices to track their personal fitness. But, since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major uptick in the deployment of medical IoT systems. Many more medical centers and groups are investing in IoMT technology to enable smart devices that remotely detect blood oxygen levels, temperature and other vital signs in patients.
Devices and protocols
The first thing healthcare organizations should consider when building out their IoMT network is the sensors that connect to the patient. These body area network (BAN) devices may be attached to the patient or installed close to their bedside. To gather clinical data from BAN sensors, healthcare organizations can deploy protocols such as RFID, near-field communication, Bluetooth Low Energy, Ultra-wideband and Z-Wave. These wireless technologies typically operate in unlicensed radio bands, such as 2.4 GHz, at a range of up to 30 feet.
To transmit data from proximal sensors and devices to hospital IT systems, organizations often use gateways equipped with Wi-Fi or Zigbee connections. Zigbee can transmit data at speeds of up to 250 Kbps over 30 meters indoors. When it comes to data rates, the spec suffers in comparison to Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi can broadcast data at multiple megabits per second at a range of 150 feet (45 meters) indoors on the 2.4 GHz frequency. The data rates can increase to more than 1 Gbps with 5 GHz, although this reduces the range to 50 feet (15 meters). Bluetooth can send data at ranges of fewer than 30 feet. To send data over longer distances and outdoors, 4G or 5G cellular technology can effectively shuttle medical data over several miles at rates of a few hundred megabits per second.
Organizations must pay close attention when laying out access points for these technologies because signals can be blocked by concrete walls and other obstacles. Signal coverage, strength and security are crucial when transmitting medical data to healthcare IT systems and the cloud. Medical Wi-Fi is engineered to deliver 99.99% reliability, and signal strength is typically guaranteed at -65 decibels or greater. Medical Wi-Fi networks should be segmented into various sections -- such as administrative, clinical and public-facing -- to help defend against malicious software infecting the entire network. Strong password protection should also be standard on such networks.
Monitoring and management software offer visibility into an organization's IoMT network and generally provide automated, real-time device discovery and inventory tools. Some programs offer features such as automated backup and restore. These management tools help healthcare organizations identify issues with devices on their IoMT network and troubleshoot those problems immediately. Organizations have several choices available for programs to monitor and secure their IoMT network, such as AWS IoT Device Management, Datadog IoT Monitoring, Domotz and Splunk for Industrial IoT.
Security is always a key issue for healthcare organizations, from safeguarding patient data to defending the IoMT infrastructure itself. Software that automatically scans assets and detects threats on the network helps ensure the security of an IoMT network. This software can alert an IT department when a new device attempts to join its IoMT network. The aim of such software is to deter intruders and security threats before they gain access, damage the network and possibly compromise the medical institution.
For larger medical groups that use a lot of IoMT sensors, software such as AWS IoT Device Management may be the right choice. AWS IoT Device Management enables a medical group to create a single view to manage multiple devices and diverse sets of units.