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Healthcare, big data and IoT: Scared to death?

Big data isn’t new to anyone or any industry, and its impact is challenging everyone. The internet of things didn’t exist when the term information explosion was first used in the 1940s.  It was used to try to quantify the growth of data generation and consumption. It wasn’t however until October 1997 when an IEEE publication by two NASA research scientists introduced the term big data. Their article begins with “Visualization provides an interesting challenge for computer systems: data sets are generally quite large, taxing the capacities of main memory, local disk, and even remote disk. We call this the problem of big data.”

The volumes of data being generated are outpacing the abilities of our traditional systems. The past decade has seen a massive growth in data generation and that was before the internet of things (IoT) entered the equation. Just like in our everyday lives, everything we use and touch seems to already be or will soon become a networked device. Healthcare big data is no different, with thousands of monitors, diagnostics machines and other vital medical pieces of medical equipment. The implications are potentially deadly in healthcare if this if not handled properly.

This means that organizations involved in healthcare, maybe more so than other sectors, must look at several different areas with regard to the implications of IoT devices and big data processing. Just imagine if a pacemaker gets hacked! We must be more vigilant about security, compliance and processing and volumes of healthcare big data.

Security and healthcare data

Are all the newly networked medical devices secure? Will big data and IoT be a new entry point for hackers to get into hospital networks? Are there inherent vulnerabilities in their design? How can we ensure that IoT devices aren’t being intentionally designed/manufactured with weaknesses by third parties who seek to do harm?

Regulatory compliance for devices

Traditional computing platforms, servers, laptops, desktops and so on are fairly well documented in regard to their regulatory compliance procedures and audits. Are the millions of medical devices that could suddenly come online also being scrutinized sufficiently? From a medical operation perspective I suspect they are, but how about from a networked IT device perspective?

Data aggregation & processing

Aggregating and processing data are challenging already with devices that IT is familiar with. How will they handle a whole new set of device types that they have never encountered? What are the patterns and behaviors of these types of devices and how does it compare to traditional technology items? Can these new healthcare devices’ data be processed in the same way and are there unique scenarios that might otherwise be missed?

Data Volumes

This aspect alone could jeopardize the previous three in the realm of healthcare big data. Regardless of whether it’s human or technological, weaknesses will get exposed if the system is overworked. Can we handle the terabytes of data being generated fast enough, or will a detectable breach result? Can we handle the growth in volume resulting from onboarding tens of thousands of new devices? Will the new volumes skew known patterns and trends we rely on?

There are lots of questions with few answers as you can see. This is what those seeking to do harm are counting on. Our industry must find ways to address these challenges at the speed necessary to mitigate the current risks. The NASA scientists in 1997 called it big data, let’s make sure we address these issues and not let it become a big danger to our society.

Contemporary operating room

Credit: Alex Tihonov/Adobe Stock