This week, technology and medical experts met in Orlando, Fla., at the HIMSS 2019 conference. HIMSS stands for Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society; the annual event draws hospitals, technology companies, medical device makers, and more. In the last few years, as the IT world has focused on healthcare, electronic medical records, cybersecurity, and AI grabbed most of the attention.
But this year we also saw a focus on bringing the IoT to medicine. Not through patient records, but through connected devices in the hospital that can report data about themselves and the patient they are monitoring. What’s been lacking is a way for those devices to talk to one another.
The healthcare world has dealt with this lack of standards before. For example, companies such as Qualcomm have invested heavily in trying to get device data into patient medical records automatically. But what if devices didn’t try to funnel the data into a patient record, but into a dashboard designed to help hospital administrators, doctors, and nurses understand the heath of a particular patient at a particular moment?
It’s a subtle shift, but one that hospitals would undoubtedly appreciate. A nurse who can check the vitals of everyone in her ward at a glance has more time to focus on a patient who is struggling if he doesn’t have to rush off to make sure others are OK. But currently he can’t do that, because there isn’t an underlying data-sharing standard for machines of different types and different makers.
RTI, a company that has historically focused on data-sharing between industrial systems, is trying to bring its brand of interoperability to the healthcare world with what it calls Connext 6. And make no mistake, this is RTI’s actual branded version of interoperability, not an open standard.
So far, it has signed up GE Healthcare and tested the connectivity framework with a few other medical device companies. The GE engineers like the fact that they don’t have to develop a device connectivity framework for each individual type of machine they build. Instead, they can focus on the features that matter in a healthcare setting.
By the same token, if the framework takes off, hospitals might request that machines be built on this standard because it will be easier to plug them into the existing hospital infrastructure that is already built on the Connext 6 framework. It’s kind of like how offices have historically liked to centralize around one type of software program for communications.
The medical world wasn’t fragmented by accident, but by companies that were hyper-aware that the responsibility for a patient’s life rested with their machines. With that in mind, they tended to build their own silicon and write their own operating systems and connectivity frameworks. David Niewolny, director of market development – healthcare at RTI, says it’s very similar to the early days of the industrial and embedded world, which RTI has worked with for decades.
And just as those companies have since come around to outsourcing the lower-level hardware and communications, Niewolny believes the medical device world will as well. As a patient, the more I understand about how hospitals adopt and care for their IT and connected medical devices, the more I’d like to see some standards and best practices emerge.
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