Avoid the Pitfalls of Implementing IoT in Healthcare
By Kapil Asher
1. Ask the question: Why are we doing this?
We operate at full throttle, feeling like we are moving 100 mph in our daily lives. We are constantly multi-tasking and taking on new projects every day. We work towards a goal and amass all the necessary tasks to get there, but we may not ask the question “Why?”
It is so critical to understand the core reason behind doing something, especially when it is something as large-scale as implementing an IoT system in a healthcare environment. The question “Why” does not demand a simple, high-level answer; it is more deep-rooted. If the answer seems high-level, then we need to ask “Why” again and again, until we hit the core of the reasoning behind taking up a project.
When designing an IoT system, I always ask why a requirement has been presented to me. Most often, the answer leads to a completely different path from the expected feature for the system. After analyzing responses to the question “why,” the carefully designed path proves to be much more successful and cost-effective than simply designing a presumed feature.
If you’re in charge of scoping an IoT project in a healthcare environment, you need to create what I call a “Why Tree.” This “Why Tree” starts by answering the question at ground level, then getting deeper and deeper to the roots of the challenge you are trying to solve with IoT. Preparing a “Why Tree” is extremely important, even before talking to vendors.
2. Leave pre-conceived notions at the door.
The internet offers a lot of answers, but it is also a notorious source of false information. The accepted wisdom from a decade ago persists in many cases when trying to implement IoT.
For example, our team often hears comments from customers such as – “We want to implement location tracking but we have heard it is very expensive so had to table the idea.” or “Seems like a lot of infrastructure with respect to sensor hardware will need to be installed which is a show stopper given labor costs.”
In both cases, after getting to the root of the question “why,” we were able to design a system that meets the requirements without a heavy investment. For example, mobile medical device sharing between nurses can be achieved with minimal workflow automation using tracking sensors and does not require a full-blown RTLS implementation.
3. Solve a specific problem really well (do not boil the ocean).
The core IoT technologies have been around for a long time and are well-positioned to be successful for defined use cases. However, for some hospital staff, these technologies are still new and overwhelming.
Typically, the creative thinkers at the hospital bring use cases that extend across multiple departments and attempt to solve many challenges at the same time. While we love to spread the costs over many use cases to get the most out of the system, we must avoid biting off more than we can chew.
Getting executive buy-in from multiple departments usually takes longer and is susceptible to a lot of delays. If scenarios for other departments are not considered thoroughly, it could backfire and force a system failure with many executive eyes on it. The broken trust in the system is very difficult to regain.
Instead, pick one or two problems and try to solve them really well at a smaller scale. Once the word spreads about your success, other departments tend to hop on with much less resistance. Moreover, it gives you time to resolve issues at a much smaller and manageable scale.
4. Define a team and their roles (ensure accountability).
Soon after an agreement is signed with the vendor, the project manager from the hospital must engage with the system integrator to understand the team needed for a successful implementation.
The project manager must ensure the integrator provides a list of the skillsets required of the team, and then secure the appropriate team members as soon as possible. The role of each team member can vary from simply enabling an IT requirement to serving as the system administrator.
At kickoff, these team members must receive clear instructions about their assigned tasks and held accountable for the completion of these tasks in a timely manner.
5. Enable success by using technology as a tool.
Technology is not the answer; it’s only the tool. We may be closer to a future when self-driving cars move us around without human intervention, but we are not quite there yet.
While our cars have advanced features including GPS navigation, lane-drifting sensors, and anti-collision sensors, humans are still in the driver’s seat. These sensors simply draw our attention towards an issue. We are the ones who must react and correct these issues. Relying simply on technology will not result in a successful road trip.
Implementing IoT in healthcare successfully must factor in the people using the system and their reaction to events generated by the sensors. Users must be trained on the proper use of the system and close the loop when an event is generated. If a proper process is not defined to address the events, the system will fail on day one.
About the Author
Kapil Asher has been working on successfully integrating sensors in various industrial applications long before the term “Internet of Things” was ubiquitous. Having deep knowledge of cutting edge technologies, Kapil has been able to leverage their use in creating process efficiencies through automation. As Director of IoT Solutions, Kapil works with hospitals in identifying challenges related to medical equipment availability, compliance on preventive maintenance and monitoring environmental conditions affecting patient care. Leveraging LEAN methodology and technological nuances, he prescribes long-term sustainable solutions to achieve operational excellence and enabling hospital staff to focus on care delivery. Kapil’s specialties include sensor hardware including passive and active RFID, software architecture, data analytics and workflow optimization.