Ana Maria Giménez, global business development manager at Sigfox, looks at how the health sector is turning to contactless technology to improve the quality of data collection
Contactless technology has been key in helping to reduce face-to-face contact during the coronavirus response
With the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of abating, health organisations around the world are turning to technological solutions to minimise the need for physical contact between healthcare providers and patients.
And, as in other realms, contactless technology has been proposed as an obvious solution for both achieving this aim and improving the quality of data collected.
If experience teaches disaster planners anything, it’s that COVID-19 will not be the last major disruption
With many contactless rollouts in the healthcare setting either imminent or already ongoing, those overseeing technology deployments need to keep some considerations in mind to ensure successful adoption.
Although the current need for the technology may be time-sensitive, for those championing the move to contactless, getting this rollout right is necessary to both ensure successful data collection, and lay the groundwork for contactless use for years to come.
Because, if experience teaches disaster planners anything, it’s that COVID-19 will not be the last major disruption.
One of the most-pressing needs for those leading contactless projects in healthcare is to make sure sensitive patient data is kept well secured and protected from hackers.
For healthcare organisations that have to comply with formal data protection codes, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), this requirement is particularly salient.
And, even for those that don’t, the leak of healthcare data may have damaging repercussions.
Secondly, planners need to ensure the availability of a network to connect contactless IoT sensors to a central application.
When it comes to deploying contactless technologies, healthcare organisations have plenty of options these days.
Both cellular and 0G networks are perfect for the healthcare IoT use case.
Sigfox’s network is optimised for the frequent throughput of small packets of information; and datapoints, such as the opening of a door, can be very useful to clinicians in the context of patient monitoring, and only require small messages to be sent one way.
Additionally, securing these feeds, like installing the equipment, should be relatively straightforward for implementation personnel.
The process of correlating IoT data feeds with individual electronic medical records (EMRs), for instance, can be done in centralised systems at the application level, thereby avoiding the need to transmit personally-identifiable information (PII) over IoT feeds at all — although appropriate systems to secure the transmission end to end should be put in place as best practice, regardless of the contents.
Furthermore, the data transmitted is typically only useful within a specific application and may also be in a proprietary format. This makes it almost useless, in itself, to potential hackers — and thus not a lucrative target for interception.
Getting the right technology and deploying it in the right way is key to ensuring it drives efficiencies
In other instances, due to 0G’s growing coverage, low-power communication networks can be used as back-up or failover communications systems for Wi-Fi or cellular-predominant monitoring systems.
This is an important advantage considering that communications redundancy is sometimes an operational requirement in the healthcare setting.
And, even in environments which would present technical challenges for traditional network infrastructure (such as underground facilities), the ability of end users to install their own base systems and infrastructures can make deploying the technology quickly feasible.
In the UK, our 0G network covers 90% of the population, so additional base systems would not be necessary in most cases. In other words, the technicalities of achieving a contactless implementation, even a rushed one, do not typically pose a problem these days.
Another key consideration for implementation teams is identifying and defining appropriate use cases for contactless technology that can be deployed quickly without the need to overcome cumbersome regulatory hurdles.
For those championing the move to contactless, getting this rollout right is necessary to both ensure successful data collection, and lay the groundwork for contactless use for years to come
For instance, while medical robotics is a relatively-mature field and prototypes capable of autonomous decision-making are already coming to market, those that need to use robot technology in the short term would be better advised to focus on simpler implementations. For instance, robots could be tasked with performing clerical duties.
Examples of these might include medicine distribution, cleaning tasks, and transporting biohazardous test samples to a laboratory. These so-called ‘service robots’ have been exploited widely in the elderly care industry in Japan where healthcare administrator robots free up human workers from having to conduct repetitive unskilled tasks. This, in turn, reduces the probability of human error and, in many cases, leads to better reporting.
Robots are not suitable for all healthcare environments and examples of contactless IoT applications that are growing in use amid the coronavirus pandemic include:
IoT sensors, for example, can be attached to critical PPE supplies to track their movement and usage within hospitals
Contactless technology can directly benefit both healthcare institutions, through helping safeguard the health of their staff, as well as that of patients.
An example of the former is SPICA Technologies’ ongoing rollout of an IoT-based system for monitoring legionella levels in the water supply through IoT-connected sensors.
Benefits of contactless healthcare solutions for patients include:
Finally, before beginning a contactless implementation teams should map out timely data flows.
In the healthcare setting, unlike many other IoT use-cases, the true network endpoints are often human beings.
With the basic networking infrastructure now readily available, and quickly deployable, a properly-planned rollout is all that is needed to push the frontier of healthcare into the contactless era
And, in the interest of minimising opportunities for human-human interface, those planning contactless IoT deployments need to map out the data flow between the patient and the centralised application in exact detail.
Failure to do so can negate the whole rationale of the system.
Some healthcare systems, for instance, used IoT-connected medical robots to collect swabs and tests from samples, but neglect to consider how to get these to the testing laboratory.
If a human still has to collect the biohazardous material, then exposure has not been avoided. In an ideal situation, contactless should mean contactless — with minimal possibility of transmission between healthcare workers and patients.
With the basic networking infrastructure now readily available, and quickly deployable, a properly-planned rollout is all that is needed to push the frontier of healthcare into the contactless era.