From ICU hospital rooms that automatically manage patient fluids, to self-maintaining equipment, more healthcare organisations are developing intelligent environments that include a mix of robotics, extended reality, artificial intelligence and connected devices. However, the technical infrastructure to support this new hyperconnected environment has not evolved at the same pace.
Internet of Thinking
Companies can no longer make the same assumptions around bandwidth, remote storage and computing.
The enterprise infrastructures that are common today in healthcare aren’t built to support the instant insights and actions needed to create intelligent solutions at scale. Current infrastructures are designed around a few basic assumptions: There is enough bandwidth to support any remote application, there is infinite storage available in the cloud and hardware will continue to have enough computing power. But the demand for immediate response times—especially in healthcare’s physical world—defies this approach. The future demands an overhaul of existing infrastructures.
To overcome the challenges, healthcare organisations can pursue three strategies:
- Embed intelligent tools everywhere
- Balance the cloud versus the edge
- Leverage custom hardware
Reimagining enterprise infrastructure unleashes new opportunities for healthcare organisations willing to see “the edge” as a strategic asset in delivering intelligent environments. Embedding a business into the surrounding world begins with an IT architecture transformation—building the capabilities to power intelligent actions everywhere.
Healthcare on the edge
To deliver intelligence everywhere, healthcare organisations must be able to analyze and act on data where it is generated. There isn’t time to wait for connectivity or the cloud—decisions must be made in an instant. This means bringing processing to the edge. Many health executives (82 percent) agree that edge architecture will speed the maturity of many technologies.
Edge solutions process and store data “nearby” on devices. For instance, Autonomous Healthcare (formerly AreteX Systems) uses machine learning tools housed on medical equipment and devices to monitor patient vital signs to automatically dispense and adjust fluid drips for individuals in critical care.
Edge computing reduces lag time and bandwidth requirements and improves security by minimising the need to send data to the cloud for analysis. Analytics generate insights right at the source. The device performs the analytics and based on the insights yielded, makes a decision to either discard data or upload it to the cloud. It’s essentially the Internet of Things, but with software on top that allows processing to happen with a lower failure rate—critical in medicine.
Consider the impact the edge can have on improving quality of life and independence for the elderly. Connected homes with smart sensors, coupled with wearable technology for health monitoring, can perform passive sensing and active coaching. For instance, an Alexa-like device1 could alert a patient of an elevated heart rate (detected on a wearable) and advise them to sit down and rest. In more acute cases, the technology would alert a caretaker or healthcare provider to intervene. The technology is liberating for the patient, and potentially lifesaving.
Getting to the edge
Digital and physical worlds continue to blur in healthcare, emphasising the need for a stronger, more flexible backbone: extended infrastructure. Extending does not mean ripping and replacing. Moreover, it’s adapting the infrastructure so that healthcare businesses can seize the full potential of AI, robotics and other emerging technologies without overburdening bandwidth.
Improvements in processing power and energy efficiency at the edge make instant actions possible, which can save lives in healthcare. The edge allows organisations to implement the technologies they want and need because they have the right level of processing power on hand.
In the next wave of healthcare innovation, the edge will become a critical part of infrastructure. Companies must determine what should be processed and stored at the edge. Businesses will find their unique balance for dividing processing tasks among the cloud and the edge, and everywhere in between.
Information and action in an instant
Imagine a seizure patient with an implanted device that does real-time analytics on her brainwaves, monitoring for unusual activity. Within milliseconds of sensing the beginning of a seizure, the device delivers pulses designed to stop it—without needing to consult an external system about what it should do, or waiting for any input from the patient. In fact, the patient doesn’t even know it’s happening. All of the action happens on the device itself. This isn’t a hypothetical scenario, but a real treatment option in use today. After NeuroPace’s neurostimulation device is surgically implanted in a patient’s skull, it invisibly and autonomously monitors for and prevents seizures, reducing incidence by 44 percent after just the first year2 This real-time management of a critical medical condition is an example of what’s possible with intelligent environments: combinations of real-time sensing and computing that deliver instant action.
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1 Reemohealth website
2 Epilepsy Breakthrough: Silicon Valley Firm’s Implant Helps Stop Brain Seizures,” Mercury News, April 10, 2017