The “Disconnects” That Threaten The Connected World

Posted on January 11, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

I’m betting that most readers are intimately familiar with the connected health world. I’m also pretty confident that you’re pretty excited about its potential – after all, who wouldn’t be?  But from what I’ve seen, the health IT world has paid too little attention to problems that could arise in building out a connected health infrastructure. That’s what makes a recent blog post on connected health problems so interesting.

Phil Baumann, an RN and digital strategist at Telerx, writes that while the concept of connecting things is useful, there’s a virtually endless list of “disconnects” that could lead to problems with connected health. Some examples he cites include:

  • The disconnect between IoT hardware and software
  • The disconnect between IoT software and patches (which, he notes, might not even exist)
  • The disconnect between the Internet’s original purpose and the fast-evolving purposes created in the Connected World
  • The disconnects among communication protocols
  • The disconnect between influencers and reality (which he says is “painfully wide”)
  • The disconnects among IoT manufacturers
  • The disconnects among supply chains and vendors

According to Baumann, businesses that use IoT devices and other connected health technologies may be diving in too quickly, without taking enough time to consider the implications of their decisions. He writes:

Idea generation and deployment of IoT are tasks with enormous ethical, moral, economic, security, health and safety responsibilities. But without considering – deeply, diligently – the disconnects, then the Connected World will be nothing of the sort. It will be a nightmare without morning.

In his piece, Baumann stuck to general tech issues rather than pointing a finger at the healthcare industry specifically. But I’d argue that the points he makes are important for health IT leaders to consider.

For example, it’s interesting to think about vulnerable IoT devices posing a mission-critical security threat to healthcare organizations. To date, as Baumann rightly notes, manufacturers have often fallen way behind in issuing software updates and security patches, leaving patient data exposed. Various organizations – such as the FDA – are attempting to address medical device cybersecurity, but these issues won’t be addressed quickly.

Another item on his disconnect list – that connected health deployment goes far beyond the original design of the Internet – also strikes me as particularly worth taking to heart. While past networking innovations (say, Ethernet) have led to rapid change, the changes brought on by the IoT are sprawling and almost unmanageable under current conditions. We’re seeing chaotic rather than incremental or even disruptive change. And given that we’re dealing with patient lives, rather than, for example, sensors tracking packages, this is a potentially dangerous problem.

I’m not at all suggesting that healthcare leaders should pull the plug on connected health innovations. It seems clear that the benefits that derive from such approaches will outweigh the risks, especially over time. But it does seem like a good idea to stop and think about those risks more carefully.