IoT in healthcare:
Paving the way for
the next generation
of medical care

Author: Satta Sarmah Hightower

The Internet of Things (IoT)—a network of connected devices that share data—has transformed everything from entertainment to transportation. But the technology may have its most significant impact on healthcare.

According to Reports and Data, the global IoT in healthcare market is forecasted to grow at a rate of 19.8% from $60.83 billion in 2019 to $260.75 billion in 2027. The growing use of IoT in healthcare means technology will become even more integral to how clinicians engage with and treat patients. However, as IoT and healthcare merge and more healthcare organizations move in this direction, they'll need to balance the patient engagement benefits IoT offers with making sure these technologies are as secure as possible.

Transforming care delivery with IoT in healthcare

IoT is helping to improve healthcare delivery in several ways, from electronic health and telesurgery to mobile health and remote patient monitoring.

Electronic health has grown over the last decade as electronic health record (EHR) systems gradually reduce paper-based processes and make it easier for different providers involved in a patient's care to share information. The rise of electronic health also has driven electronic prescribing and made it easier for doctors to share prescription information with pharmacies, for health systems to share information with patients via secure electronic portals, and for patients to have telehealth visits with their healthcare providers remotely.

Healthcare IoT also has led to the emergence of mobile health and remote patient monitoring. Providers can use mobile devices to share accurate clinical information with patients that helps to improve their engagement in their own care and with other providers to foster more collaboration across specialties. Mobile devices and applications also are critical for remote patient monitoring, where patients wear a sensor-based device or wearable technology that transmits health data to clinicians involved in their care. This emerging technology could have significant implications for managing chronic conditions and helping to facilitate early interventions that can help reduce the likelihood of serious illness, surgery or treatment in the future.

We're also seeing IoT in healthcare with telesurgery, which could allow doctors to perform surgery remotely and better serve underserved populations. With telesurgery, a doctor would use a robotic system or device to perform surgery on a patient—even though they aren't in the operating room. IoT devices and wireless networking technologies could allow doctors to see and maneuver their way around the surgical field to deliver accurate surgical procedures, according to research published in Cureus.

Whether it's telesurgery, remote patient monitoring or electronic health, all of these interactions rely on the ability of IoT-enabled devices to not only transfer data in near real time but to do so securely. The best way for organizations to integrate IoT and healthcare is by implementing multi-layered security, which can help strengthen their security posture at the device, application and network levels.

Safeguarding IoT data in healthcare

Securing IoT in healthcare is crucial because these technologies increase the number of endpoints connecting to a healthcare organization's network and lead to a wider attack surface for these organizations.

Past research indicates that among healthcare providers who have implemented IoT devices, 82% have experienced a security breach of one of these devices within a given year, according to HIPAA Journal. When IoT devices are hacked, they could expose patient data and undermine patient trust. In more extreme circumstances, security breaches could jeopardize Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance, which regulates the integrity and confidentiality of protected health information, including electronic health information.

As a matter of compliance and to reduce their business risks, healthcare organizations must put robust mechanisms in place to enhance security at every stage of the data life cycle—when they collect it, when they store it and when they transmit it. A multi-layered approach to security can help them reduce their exposure as they increasingly embrace healthcare IoT.

What is layered security for IoT and healthcare?

Security for healthcare IoT should leverage a range of solutions, services and approaches. This can include the use of devices with built-in security and secure SIM cards, which can help prevent theft, unauthorized use and data leaks. In addition, endpoint and mobile device management solutions can give these organizations more visibility into and control over the devices and applications connecting to their networks, which can reduce the security risks associated with digital health apps and remote patient monitoring solutions.

Security at the network level is vital. Healthcare organizations can work with a managed security services provider to reduce their security risks and increase their resilience. These services can encompass robust firewall protections, real-time threat monitoring, network intrusion detection and prevention systems that provide alerts about potentially malicious threats and suspicious network traffic, and an email security gateway that helps screen for viruses, Trojans, phishing, and other social engineering schemes.

Partnering for data security in healthcare IoT

Along with these services, healthcare organizations should ensure whatever security partner they choose employs two-level encryption to secure data that goes from the device to the network and application data that goes from the endpoint to the application or end user. To further enhance application-level security, healthcare organizations can adopt user access management and multi-factor authentication tools to help ensure only authorized users have access to patient health information and other operational data.

5G and mobile edge computing (MEC) also can enhance network security, reduce latency and help to ensure that data is securely and efficiently transferred between different IoT-connected devices. 5G and MEC can help to reduce the risk of malware and other security threats because these solutions come with built-in security designed to meet modern standards and protocols. These network technologies also help enable security automation because they allow threat intelligence platforms to transfer data more quickly, which enables these platforms to more effectively detect and combat threats.

It's clear that as healthcare IoT grows and more healthcare organizations become data- and technology-driven, security will be a key part of their modernization efforts. Taking a more holistic approach to security can improve data privacy, integrity and availability to help protect the data that IoT devices collect against hackers.

Securing next-generation IoT and healthcare technologies

Healthcare IoT is paving the way for more digitally connected healthcare, which will make the system more efficient and help to lower the cost of care, while potentially improving care quality and patient outcomes.

Though IoT in healthcare can help providers, clinicians and healthcare systems improve care, they must take steps to secure these devices and ensure patient data isn't compromised. A multi-layered approach to security—encompassing managed security services, two-level encryption and real-time threat detection and monitoring—can give healthcare organizations the security capabilities they need to successfully bring humans and machines together, improve patient engagement and deliver transformative care.

Discover more ways a third party can supply and secure critical healthcare IT solutions.