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IoT: A Transformative Ecosystem or a Race to the Bottom?

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel at the Brookings Institution discussing the 5th-Generation (5G) wireless revolution, how it will enable the Internet of Things (IoT) and the implications for healthcare. In the paper that spawned the Brookings panel, Darrell West noted that 5G networks will incorporate cloud storage and a distributed computing model into a true Internet of Things, where billions of devices will share data in new ways.

The possibilities for identifying important health trends and intervening at just the right time to affect behavior — using everyday objects and systems — opens the door to all kinds of possibilities for improved health. But for me, that idea is positively frightening, given the current state of interoperability in healthcare.

The IoT only works if there are standards. An essential function of IoT standards is to allow devices to identify their capabilities to each other, and provide basic information regarding format. Several organizations are working on this, but none seem well-versed in healthcare needs.

As low-cost, consumer-grade sensors are embedded into devices without regard for the unique needs and requirements for healthcare data exchange, will we experience trouble? Will the 5G healthcare IoT become a ‘race to the bottom,’ where data of dubious or unknown quality will power our new healthcare ecosystem?

Take, for example, a connected weight scale. Even if a device collects data accurately, the way the scale transmits data can enhance or nullify its accuracy. For general wellness, this probably doesn’t matter. But for monitoring a condition like heart failure, it does.Continue reading…

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