Five Criteria for Selecting a Healthcare IoT Solutions Provider

Timon LeDain | June 15, 2016 | 8 Min Read

Success with IoT can be tricky. It is a constellation of complex technologies from which you need to pick, choose and customize to craft a product that can succeed. Many companies fail in their IoT initiatives because they underestimate the challenges of navigating this complexity and don’t engage a partner that can provide guidance throughout the project.

Healthcare delivery has never changed as fast as it is today. Like most industries, rich connectivity is enabling new service delivery models and providing insights that were not possible before. For providers that get the connectivity revolution right, the rewards include better outcomes at lower costs. Healthcare organizations of all sorts are taking advantage of the convergence of low-cost sensors and networked hardware, cloud computing and mobile apps to deliver tremendous value to their clients through innovative solutions that were impossible a few short years ago. The robust data generated by connected Internet of Things devices enables vendors to better plan and deliver solutions, while those that don’t heed the radical potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) risk being swept aside.

But success with IoT can be tricky. It is a constellation of complex technologies such as hardware and distributed software platforms from which you need to pick, choose and customize to craft a product that can succeed today and remain nimble in a volatile future. Many companies fail in their IoT initiatives because they underestimate the challenges of navigating this complexity and don’t engage a partner that can provide guidance throughout the project. Building out a business plan is an important first step that can help test your ideas and challenge assumptions. You can better identify risks early on and make an informed decision about whether to proceed with the investment in design, build, launch and support cycles that follow.

Some of the key criteria you need to think about from day one of your project include interoperability and integration of devices with existing systems, regulatory compliance, networking choices and cloud solutions. Building a proof of concept or piloting a solution to test your internal capacities can give you a better understanding of how you can leverage an IoT solution to achieve the business transformation you are seeking. With a handle on these issues, most companies discover that they don’t have all the skills required in-house and look for an outside partner to guide them. But even this choice is critical: do you work with a traditional systems integrator or a pure-play IoT solution provider, and how do you choose?

Consider all 5 of these criteria when you’re selecting a healthcare IoT solutions provider.

1. Walking the Interoperability Talk

The large institutional healthcare organizations interested in deploying IoT have built up large investments in back-office servers such as electronic health and billing records. Your IoT initiative must integrate and interoperate with these legacy systems. Avoid the common mistake of focusing on integration with one back-end system, such as a specific Electronic Health Record (EHR) vendor. This effectively builds your device into a silo. Instead, research and build for the existing technology ecosystem in your chosen niche. A narrow focus may seem cheaper and faster but seldom survives.

As more and more medical equipment is connected, it’s also important to understand where your solution fits into this overall IoT environment and how to integrate it. Think of the connected home. A few years ago your thermostat and home lighting were connected, and it was reasonable to have an app for each. But multiply that by the 10 or 20 types of devices you may have in your home today and you can see how unmanageable it becomes to have an app for each. This is why vendors are integrating their devices into comprehensive dashboards. In the lab, doctor’s office or ICU, workers are demanding similar consolidation that reflects the way they work. Ensure that your solution can be controlled by the leading automation vendors in your space and strive for interoperability.

You will derive the greatest value from the way your IoT device integrates with your existing enterprise solutions and with other connected devices. Find a partner who can help you develop an open ecosystem that allows full integration with your existing IT systems, third-party databases, and the connected devices leveraged by your clients today. Building another closed IoT system just adds to the growing list of single-purpose applications without delivering the benefit of full integration. The partner who can help you navigate through these critical architectural decisions is the one you want to work with.

2. Cracking the Compliance Conundrum

Regulatory requirements for healthcare in the U.S. start with HIPAA, and any IoT solution will need to comply with these regulations. It can be daunting given all the moving parts involved and the complexity of the regulations. You will need to address issues like device security, strategies to minimize the data that is exposed in the event of a breach, and, in the case of patient operated devices, ensuring that they are given notice and offered choices about their data.

Many suppliers such as cloud providers and application framework developers offer HIPAA compliant solutions and business associate agreements (BAAs), but that’s just the starting point. It’s also important to work with a trusted partner that has deep insights into complex regulatory issues like security, roles based access to data, and audit tracking needed to guide you successfully.

3. Unlocking the Potential of Closed Networks

Many healthcare networks are closed – and for good reason. Often self-contained within the walls of a facility, they don’t connect to the public Internet, making it difficult for external threats to access private data. Many IoT devices, however, leverage the pervasiveness and low cost of cloud computing to scale at costs that make business sense. In-home patient monitoring devices, for example, can leverage existing broadband ISP connections to upload data to cloud storage, but only if institutional security concerns are met. This may involve demonstrating the security of your solution through proper authentication, encryption, a VPN or other technologies. And even if you take all the right steps to ensure that your IoT device connects securely to the healthcare network, you will need to prove that your device was not at fault in the event of a breach, so plan for adequate logging that can be used to perform security audits.

4. Don’t let the Cloud Ruin your Day

Cloud services offer compelling value: turnkey storage, processing power and networking capacity that can be scaled up as your needs change. But be aware that not all cloud services are equal. Home healthcare providers should look for a professional services partner who can handle the IT requirements for hosting and managing an Internet-based software service. Ensure that they leverage one of the latest cloud computing platforms to host your solution and support a continuous deployment model that allows new features to be added while supporting existing users. The cloud software deployment model is vastly different from that of desktop applications, allowing incremental updates and bug fixes without service disruption, and you need to understand how this will affect your device release schedules. These are some of the advantages to be had if you choose wisely, but there are also dangers lurking in the cloud:

Avoid lock-in.
Will a cloud vendor try to lock you into their service by making it difficult to move your data? Do they support standard export formats like XML, JSON and SQL dumps? Or will moving your data to another vendor involve painful and expensive hacks to work around a closed system? Equally important, how difficult will it be to move your application? Recompiling may be an acceptable effort while a significant rewrite isn’t.

Know the law.
Cloud services can be hosted anywhere, and part of the appeal is that customers don’t need to concern themselves with such details. But in a heavily regulated industry like healthcare, you could run afoul of jurisdictional regulations. Be sure your cloud service of choice meets privacy, record retention, jurisdictional and other requirements.

Beware consolidation.
We’re still in the gold-rush days of cloud computing, with a crowded field of incumbents and new entrants jostling for market share. But this is changing quickly as the sector matures and consolidates. Many smaller cloud and IoT platform providers will be absorbed or swept aside, leaving their customers scrambling to find a way to migrate or retrofit their products for different platforms. The cheapest service today may prove the most expensive in the long term.

5. Solving the Partnership Problem

There are many companies offering IoT development services. The majority of these are traditional systems integrators. They are good at bringing together common off-the-shelf technologies and getting them to talk to each other. They offer breadth, but often lack the depth needed to succeed with the idiosyncrasies and complexities of the IoT world and can’t work with you from concept to commercialization as your “IoT general contractor”. They can only offer part of the overall solution, leaving it to you to hire and coordinate other expertise in parallel, much like the homeowner who acts as their own general contractor. These arrangements introduce risk to budgets, timelines and the overall success of a project since they lead to confusion and misunderstanding around communications and areas of responsibility.

Another direction is the IoT solution provider. These organizations have the technical depth and expertise to architect and build a solution that will deliver on your business needs over the long run. Look for companies that understand the needs of the different users of your proposed solution. Companies with a strong user experience focus won’t start the discussion at a technology level, but rather begin by understanding your business, learning about your unique value proposition, who your clients are, and what success looks like to you. From this understanding will come a solution targeted at addressing those business needs. The right partner will help you customize your unique customer experience strategy. They’ll also fit right in with your engineering team, providing valuable knowledge and skills transfer.

A professional services partner that understands solution delivery at a system level will have a formal ecosystem of their own professional partnerships that they can leverage to identify and integrate all of the elements of your solution. These include industrial design services to build your device enclosures and ensure that they meet the physical and certification requirements for the environment in which they will operate. They will also have connections with manufacturing supply chain partners that can accelerate the volume production of any custom hardware, and certification and testing services to ensure that your solution meets all electrical and safety certifications required for the markets you are selling into.

Your foray into the world of IoT is a journey, and selecting a healthcare IoT solutions provider that best for your business is a critical first step. The right partnership will guide you past the dead-ends from concept formalization through all the planning and design phases, to manufacturing and successful launch.

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