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Internet of Things: A promising prescription for improving healthcare in India

By Rajiv Kapur

How do you care for the physical needs of more than 2,000 patients? In India, where there are roughly 48 doctors for every 100,000 people, it’s a very real concern. Many of our nation’s healthcare providers have been ill-equipped to diagnose, treat and monitor the progress of patients within urban population centers and rural villages. Fortunately, help is on the way.

According to research analyst firm Gartner, healthcare providers in India will spend an estimated $1.2 billion U.S. dollars (USD) on IT products and services in 2015, an increase of 7 percent from the previous year. Hospitals, clinics and ambulatory services will upgrade or deploy internal services, software, IT services, data centers, devices and telecom services. This trend is expected to continue well into the future.

These long-overdue upgrades are of even greater importance in the Internet of Things (IoT) era, as millions of people around the globe connect with billions of gadgets and machines - each with their own set of sensors - in ways we never imagined just a few years ago. Indeed, forecasts from the Ericsson Mobility Report and ABI Research estimate that by 2019 there will be 30 billion wirelessly connected devices.

 Internet of Things: A promising prescription for improving healthcare in India

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The IoT is expected to have a profound effect on healthcare in India. Envision doctors leveraging a variety of small, powerful wireless monitors connected through the IoT, to reach and track patient health in India’s most remote communities, where healthcare facilities are almost non-existent. Picture clinicians viewing patient medical records or x-rays through state-of-the-art connected eyeglasses (think Google Glass).

All of this suggests we are at the dawn of an exciting revolution in patient care across India. But at the same time, there are concerns that healthcare organizations could “overdose” on the digital information coming their way because they are ill prepared from a technological standpoint to handle it.

As more things connect to the Internet and to each other, today’s data management tools and traditional applications will fall short of the precise analytics needed for the ever-growing, massive, complex data sets known as Big Data. Managing Big Data will be critical to ensuring consumers and healthcare professionals alike reap the greatest benefit from wearable healthcare devices.

Healthcare organizations must consider the critical role of the network in managing and analyzing these gigantic volumes of data coming from all those health and fitness devices. Employing Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and cloud computing technologies will prepare the network to rapidly capture, curate, manage, and process massive amounts of data.

The emerging architecture of SDN separates the network control from forwarding function, enabling administrators to directly program network control and abstract the underlying infrastructure for applications and network services. And SDN software programs make it possible for IT organizations to quickly configure, manage, secure and optimize the network, adjusting traffic flow in response to changing needs.

What’s more, SDN offers a cost-effective approach that is standards based and vendor neutral, simplifying network design while improving manageability, coordination and control. Programmable, low latency, high-performing Ethernet switches work well with SDN, and help to create a seamless network that spans between the cloud and an organization’s data centers.

NFV works in a similar fashion. NFV decouples entire classes of network functions from proprietary hardware appliances, such as routers and switches, enabling them to run in software. The result is a new approach to designing deploying, and managing networking services. By using standard IT virtualization technologies, NFV “virtualizes” these functions into building blocks that can be linked together, creating communication services.

NFV can be used in any data plane processing or control plane function, whether in wired or wireless network infrastructures, making Ethernet networks even more scalable, agile, and efficient. And with SDN, administrators can manage, provision and monitor NFV-based networks much more efficiently. Both SDN and NFV are prime examples of how virtualization is reshaping the way organizations use IT.

Cloud computing is having a similar effect. By providing Internet access to complex applications and massive computing resources, the cloud offers additional storage and bandwidth capacity. At the same time, it also provides access to third-party applications and resources - without the need for more IT infrastructure.

Being able to host processing and data in the cloud also frees up network administrators to take greater control of devices generating data and move network capacity closer to where the data is created. The result is a high bandwidth, low latency network that can take advantage of all that the cloud has to offer.

There’s no arguing that investments in data and analytical tools, the cloud and network infrastructure will significantly improve the quality and efficiency of India’s healthcare system. And devices tied to IoT certainly promise great potential, though their effect is just starting to be felt. What the full weight of that will look like is still up for debate. With the right technology behind it, however, anything is possible.

(The author is managing director at Broadcom India)

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Updated Date: Aug 21, 2015 17:14:23 IST

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