Internet of Things April 2022 Viewpoints
Concerns about IoT Health Privacy
By Gary Flood
Flood is an independent consultant specializing in digital and connected technologies.
Five years ago, connected-health-care companies strongly focused on leveraging mobile platforms. The focus was to spread clinician access out to communities by connecting care professionals to patients at home via their mobile devices and tablets. Public-health providers liked the idea of making at least some care services much more user controlled, with vendors stressing the utility of capturing data about patients with conditions such as diabetes in their own homes rather than in dedicated health-care settings.
However, overall demand for these technologies was driven more by service providers than by patients themselves—at least until the covid‑19 pandemic. The pandemic continues to be a major driver for a more remote living style, including remote health care and making tracking and potentially sharing fitness and ultimately general health metrics more acceptable to patients than it was previously. Transparency Market Research shows that IoT-health-device makers such as Apple, GE Healthcare, IBM, Intel, Medtronic, and Qualcomm are all riding a new wave of interest in remote health care. HIMSS, the global health-tech-leadership organization, confirms that in a poll of its membership, 80% of contacted global-health administrators plan to increase their investment in digital health during the next five years.
Some market-research companies are predicting that the IoT-health market will reach $500 billion by 2028. This growth is driven by several demand factors. First, IoT sensor networks operating over 5G cellular networks provide support for ultralow latency and high network bandwidth. These network improvements enable devices such as remote glucose monitors to provide health-care providers with highly granular data. Second, high growth potential means that the IoT-health sector sees significant interest from venture-capital funding. For example, in 2020, Deloitte reported that funding for health-tech innovators reached $14 billion, which was twice the 2019 funding figure.
A key barrier to further commercialization, at least as some providers envision it, is in increasing scrutiny on data privacy. Stricter regulation about data governance can force service providers and device and software developers to implement more resource-intensive data-handling practices. This regulation can also hinder development of diagnostic tools by reducing developers' access to training data for diagnostic machine-learning algorithms.
The UK National Health Service (NHS) is a key case in point. Several attempts by the UK government to implement greater sharing of NHS patient data have thus far been unsuccessful. Likewise, data-gathering efforts in the European Union fall under its General Data Protection Regulation that places limits on what data companies can gather and what processing they are permitted to do on patient data.
Relevant Areas to Monitor
Internet of Things devices can generate large amounts of data about individuals and their behaviors, which many companies may try to take advantage of. So far, concerns about privacy have not influenced consumer behavior significantly; however, sentiments could change, and government regulations could force companies to respect privacy.
The health-care sector is already a major user of connected digital technologies. Health-care providers have been among the early adopters of a range of high-end technologies. Hospitals and surgeons make use of a wide variety of digital devices for examining and monitoring patients and for dispensing drugs.
Opportunities in the Following Industry Areas