• 6 min read

Reimagining healthcare with Azure IoT

Providers, payors, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences companies are leading the next wave of healthcare innovation by utilizing connected devices.

Providers, payors, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences companies are leading the next wave of healthcare innovation by utilizing connected devices. From continuous patient monitoring, to optimizing operations for manufacturers and cold-chain supply tracking for the pharmaceutical industry, the healthcare industry has embraced IoT technology to improve patient outcomes and operations.

In our latest IoT Signals for Healthcare research, we spoke with over 150 health organizations about the role that IoT will play in helping them deliver better health outcomes in the years to come. Across the ecosystem, 85 percent see IoT as “critical” to their success, with 78 percent planning to increase their investment in IoT technologies over the next few years. Real-time data from connected devices and sensors provides benefits across the health ecosystem, from manufacturers and pharmaceuticals to health providers and patients.

For health providers, IoT unlocks efficiencies for clinical staff and equipment:

  • Reduces human error.
  • Ensures regulatory compliance when exchanging patient health data across systems.
  • Coordinates the productivity of medical professionals across clinical facilities.

For manufacturers, IoT creates new digital feedback loops connecting their employees, facilities, products, and end customers. Real-time data can help:

  • Reduce costly downtime with predictive maintenance.
  • Improve sustainable practices by reducing waste and ensuring worker safety.
  • Contribute to improved product quality and quantity.

For the pharmaceutical industry, IoT provides greater traceability for inventory along a supply chain:

  • Improved visibility into environmental conditions.
  • Reduced costly inventory spoilage.
  • Increased control against theft or counterfeiting.

For end patients, IoT can improve health outcomes with continuous patient monitoring:

  • Reduces the need for unnecessary readmissions.
  • Improves treatment success rates by providing continuous data to care professionals.
  • Personalizes care based on patient needs.

In this blog, we’ll cover how our portfolio can support different IoT solution needs for software developers, hardware developers, and healthcare customers. We’ll also cover new product updates for healthcare solution builders, review a sample solution architecture, and showcase two case studies that illustrate different approaches for building innovative healthcare solutions. To further explore applications of IoT in healthcare and customer case studies, head to our IoT in Healthcare page.

Building healthcare IoT solutions with Azure IoT

As Microsoft and its global partners continue to build solutions that empower healthcare organizations around the world, a key question continues to face IoT decision makers: whether to build a solution from scratch or buy an existing solution that fits their needs.

From ensuring device-to-cloud security with Azure Sphere to providing multiple approaches for device management and connectivity with Platform as a Service (PaaS) options or a managed app platform, Azure IoT provides the most comprehensive IoT and Edge product portfolio on the market, designed to meet the diverse needs of healthcare solution builders.

Solution builders who want to invest their resources in designing, maintaining, and customizing IoT systems from the ground up can do so with our growing portfolio of IoT platform services, leveraging Azure IoT Hub as a starting point.

While this approach may be tempting for many, often solution builders struggle when growing their pilot into a globally scalable IoT solution. This process introduces significant complexity to an IoT architecture, requiring expertise across cloud and device security, DevOps, compliance, and more. For this reason, many solution builders might be better suited for starting with a managed platform approach with Azure IoT Central. Using more than two dozen Azure services, Azure IoT Central is designed to continually evolve with the latest service updates and seamlessly accompany solution builders along their IoT journey from pilot to production. With predictable pricing, white labeling, healthcare-specific application templates, and extensibility, solution builders can focus their time on how their device insights can improve outcomes, instead of common infrastructure questions like ingesting device data or ensuring disaster recovery.

New tools to accelerate building a healthcare IoT solution

Over the past year, we’ve been working hard to create new tools to make IoT solution development easier for our healthcare partners and customers:

  • Azure IoT Central app templates.
  • Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) Connector for Azure.

To help you put all of these tools together, we’ve also published a reference architecture diagram for continuous patient monitoring solutions.

Continuous patient monitoring reference architecture

Azure IoT Central Continuous Patient Monitoring App Template Reference Architecture

Azure IoT Central app templates

Last November, we announced the first IoT Central healthcare application template, designed for continuous patient monitoring applications. In-patient monitoring and remote patient monitoring are top of mind for many healthcare organizations; monitoring is the number one application of IoT in healthcare today, according to our survey of health organizations (mentioned above).

Application templates help solution builders get started even faster by providing scenario-specific resources such as:

  • Sample device operator dashboards.
  • Sample device templates.
  • Preconfigured rules and alerts.

An IoT device operator might set alerts to be notified when patient devices have low battery levels or exceed a certain threshold of temperature, so that they can take timely action to prevent devices losing connectivity, being damaged, or losing battery. Furthermore, the application template has rich documentation detailing integration with the Azure API for FHIR, ensuring scalable compliance with the HL7 FHIR standard (more on this in the next section).

Outside of using existing App Templates, solution builders can also leverage the “Custom App” option to build IoT applications for other healthcare scenarios as well.

IoMT FHIR Connector for Azure

Interoperability continues to be a huge challenge and critical for most healthcare organizations looking to use healthcare data in innovative ways. Microsoft proudly announced the general availability of our own FHIR server offering, Azure API for FHIR, in October 2019. We are now further enriching the FHIR ecosystem with the IoMT FHIR Connector for Azure, a connector designed to ingest, transform, and store IoT protected health information (PHI) data in FHIR compatible format.

Innovative healthcare companies share their IoT stories

In addition to rich industry insights like those found in IoT Signals for Healthcare and our previously published stories from Stryker, Gojo, and Wipro, we are releasing two new case stories. They detail the decisions, trade-offs, processes, and results of top healthcare organizations investing in IoT solutions, as well as the healthcare solution builders supporting them. These case studies showcase different approaches to building an IoT solution, based on the unique needs of their business. Read more about how these companies are implementing and winning with their IoT investments.

ThoughtWire and Schneider Electric leverage IoT for hospital operations

Clinical environments are managed by traditionally disconnected systems (facility management, clinical operations, inventory management, and more), operated by entirely separate teams. This makes it difficult to holistically manage and optimize clinical operations. Schneider Electric, a global expert in facilities management, partnered with ThoughtWire, a specialist in operations management systems, to deliver an end-to-end solution for facilities and clinical operations management. The joint Smart Hospital solution uses Azure’s IoT platform to help hospitals and clinics reduce costs, minimize their carbon footprint, and promote better staff satisfaction, patient experiences and health outcomes.

“We don’t just want to understand how the facility operates, we want to understand how patients and clinical staff interact with that infrastructure,” says Chris Roberts, Healthcare Solution Architect at Schneider Electric. “That includes everything to do with patient experience and patient safety. And when you talk about those things, the clinical world and the infrastructure world start to merge and connect. Working with ThoughtWire, we bridge the gap between those two worlds and drive performance improvements.”

To learn more, read the case study here.

Sensoria Health creates a new gold standard for managing diabetic foot ulcers

Diabetic Foot Ulcers (DFUs) are the leading cause of hospitalizations for diabetics, with a notoriously high treatment failure rate (over 75 percent), and an annual cost of $40 billion globally. To improve treatment success, Sensoria partnered with leading diabetic foot boot manufacturer, Optima Molliter, to create the Motus Smart Solution. The solution enables clinicians to remotely monitor patients wearing removable offloading devices (casts) when they leave the clinic and to track patient compliance against recommended care plans, enabling more personalized–and more impactful–care.

Sensoria turned to Azure IoT Central to develop a solution that would handle device management at scale while ensuring compliance in storing and sharing patient data. They leveraged the Continuous Patient Monitoring app template as their starting point to quickly design, launch, and scale their solution. With native IoMT Connector for FHIR integration, the template ensures that patient data is ultimately stored and shared in a secure and compliant format.

As stated by Davide Vigano, Cofounder and CEO of Sensoria, “We needed to quickly build enterprise-class applications for both doctors and patients to use with the device, send data from the device in a way that would help people remain compliant with HIPAA and other similar privacy-related legislation around the world, and find a way for the device’s data to easily flow from clinician to clinician across the very siloed healthcare industry. Using Azure IoT Central helped us deliver on all those requirements in a very short period of time.”

To learn more, read the case study here.

Figure 2: Sensoria Health  Motus Smart integration with Azure IoT Central and the Azure API for FHIR.

We look forward to seeing healthcare organizations continue to innovate with IoT to drive better health outcomes. We’ll continue to build the tools and platforms to empower our partners to invent with purpose.

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