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June 23, 2021

The gradual but steady move towards 5G coupled with edge computing has the potential to revolutionize healthcare. In that sense, the industry is perched on the edge of creating a safe environment for healthcare devices and removing the dependence on cloud or centralized locations that can generally cause latency.

Technologies like IoT, AR/VR, robotics etc. are incrementally playing a major role in virtual care and value-based care. That means we can no longer depend only on the cloud, with issues like downtime, bandwidth congestion, and high latency for the devices to work properly and provide live data without latency. Any data-related delays can literally mean a life or death situation, and this is where edge computing can truly be a game changer.

Edge computing refers to a set of enabling technologies that move storage, computing, and networking closer to the point of data generation and consumption, which is helpful in cases where immediate results are needed such as for critical care and life-threatening cases.  Edge computing can prove to be crucial in times such as the pandemic, where doctors can monitor the vitals of patients from remote locations and come up with an action plan.

Some of the main advantages of healthcare in edge include:

  • Real-time data processing and analytics
  • More control over the data and its security to detect breaches earlier
  • Monitoring and subsequent action on critical vitals even in areas with poor connectivity
  • Meeting regulatory compliance as using edge capabilities in IoMT and services aim to keep patient data close to the source, hence limiting the risk of privacy breach during transition
  • Handling downtimes and latency
  • Cost savings as wearable devices and IoT can help healthcare organizations save up to 25% of their business costs which is mainly incurred due to security and surveillance

Gaining the Edge

Here’s how edge computing in healthcare delivery works:

  • Edge devices like IoT and smart wearables that are carried by patients constantly record their vitals
  • Through customer premises equipment (CPE), virtual customer premises equipment (VCPE), fixed switches, and gateways, this data is sent to the nearest edge servers for processing and the results are provided immediately to the patients
  • The data that resides on edge servers is synced with the cloud on a fixed periodic basis
  • In some cases, the edge computation device can also be deployed on the edge device directly for analysis and results

As per GM Insights, the IoT healthcare market size surpassed USD 2 billion in 2016 and is estimated to grow at over 15% CAGR between 2017 and 2024. The increasing demand for remote monitoring of patients will propel the market growth further. As per Business Insider, 5.6 billion IoT devices owned by enterprises and governments utilized edge computing for data collection and processing in 2020.

The future of healthcare delivery through edge computing promises better and immediate care, with cost savings to both patients and providers. However, there are some challenges that the healthcare continuum needs to address before full-fledged adoption. Firstly, the cost to build and buy the infrastructure requires high initial investments. In particular, for remote areas where basic connectivity is still an issue, deployment and coverage of edge can be more challenging. Further, security issues in green storage technologies may allow attackers to add unauthorized software or hardware to edge nodes and inject malicious inputs into edge servers. Healthcare regulations can also be a limitation as edge devices and the corresponding software should follow the geography-specific compliance – be it HIPAA for US or GDPR for Europe – failing which, healthcare organizations may face heavy penalties.

In time, we believe, a well-planned execution that adheres to the security requirements and regulatory mandates can overshadow the challenges and demonstrate high RoI. The future of healthcare looks bright as the real meaning of virtual, value-based, and on-demand care can be truly realized. Edge computing will act as a crucial enabler in utilizing technologies like IoT and AR/VR to their fullest.

Kamini Bhargava is Chief Architect, Transformation and Engineering Group, Healthcare, TCS. She has 22+ years of industry experience in technology, solutions, and consulting. She has a vast experience in Banking and Finance (BFS), Insurance, Healthcare, and technology, and domain-focused solutioning for various customers in the US and Europe. She conceptualizes strategic solutions and platforms for healthcare customers including payers, integrated payer-providers, specialty providers, and Pharmacy Benefit Management companies. With a vast experience in executing large-scale transformational programs, she is also an expert in Microsoft technology, integration, DevOps, and Agile.

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