5 reasons to monitor Health Monitoring Systems

Cristina De Luca -

April 01, 2022

The reality of modern medicine is that there are many more patients than doctors able to help them. The recent pandemic has proven that the world is not ready for such emergencies and there is a growing need for the use of technology to make healthcare professionals more efficient.

One such technology is what we call Health Monitoring Systems (HMS). In real-time, using IoT, these systems can help physicians prioritize patients and provide urgent care to those who are in the greatest danger, saving lives.  In addition, more competent patient management helps to use hospital resources more wisely and save money.

The patient monitoring device market is projected to reach $55.1 billion by 2025, according to Markets and Markets. The integration of monitoring technologies into smartphones and wireless devices is a key trend in patient care, resulting in the introduction of remote monitoring systems, mobile cardiac telemetry devices, mobile personal digital assistant (PDA) systems, wireless ambulatory EEG recorders, and ambulatory event monitors.

HMS includes it all: from personal devices to medical and imaging devices. In recent years, rising healthcare spending, especially in hospital settings, has shifted the focus to alternative methods of treatment, such as home healthcare. This in turn has ensured a growing demand for effective home-use devices such as thermometers, pulse oximeters, scales, ECG monitors, event monitors, EEG recorders, and fetal monitors. The sustainability of the current Healthcare system is a key area of concern for governments around the world. 

If it is essential that doctors have access to patient data when they need it, it is also essential that the various systems work together and that this happens smoothly.

Therefore, HMS requires comprehensive IT and network monitoring, considering five points of major attention:

1 – Data collection – Initial phase of the process, where types of equipment and sensors are responsible for reading the patient’s information. Any problem with this equipment compromises the entire application. Smart healthcare is one of the main implementations of the Internet of Things (IoT). Continuous glucose monitoring, temperature monitoring, blood pressure monitoring and pulse oximetry are some applications of portable patient monitoring devices, biosensors, and smart implants. Vital signs such as blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, and electrocardiography (ECG) are measured using wearable biosensors and transmitted over wireless mobile networks to a central server.

2 – Network – All medical devices require a classic IT infrastructure for communication. This infrastructure takes care of the data transfer and provides the hardware for the system network. Cables, switches, servers, and storage systems are needed, as are Wi-Fi and its access points. All need to be in perfect working order, which requires a fully functional network. Any downtime directly affects frontline service.

3 – Data processing: In this phase, analysis of the information takes place. The system can draw a quick conclusion about a patient’s condition because it is powered by AI, and quickly notify a doctor if the patient needs immediate help.

4 – Application – After processing, data is sent to expert systems and mobile applications used by clinicians. Again, IT monitoring becomes critical as applications use traditional IT infrastructures such as switches, servers, databases, and storage systems.

5 – Security – Security plays an important role. Hospital IT is no longer isolated; it is intertwined with various institutions (health insurance companies, doctors, building technology, administration, etc.), placing extremely high expectations on firewalls, virus scanners, and intrusion detection systems.

Device availability, data transfers and application performance must be kept under continuous observation. 

What should an IT monitoring tool do?

And how should it be applied medical environments?

Well, very simplistically, the configuration and functionalities of transmission, storage, analysis, and publication of data in medical technology are the same as in the classic IT network. Therefore, IT and network monitoring software should:

  • Monitor network speeds and checks for bottlenecks, etc. This should be done using common network protocols such as SNMP, Netflow, WMI, and so on.
  • Monitor devices such as routers, servers, storage, and so on.
  • Provide alerts and notifications when certain thresholds are reached, such as when bandwidth is low or when a device becomes overheated.
  • Display infrastructure status in a single dashboard view.

IT and network monitoring solutions give healthcare providers the ability to monitor vital data connections, servers, applications, and even workstations. This enables them to maintain optimal performance across the Healthcare organization’s IT infrastructure.

Ultimately, despite the importance of medical devices, it is data that is at the heart of the modern medical IT system – as with any information system. Patient data needs to be readily available at various touchpoints in the hospital – for example: to the doctor consulting a patient, in the X-ray department, and so on. Images from imaging devices, such as ultrasound or MRI images, need to be transferred, stored, and made available to doctors and nurses throughout the hospital and beyond.

To cater for this, many hospitals have a central communication hub – also known as an integration mechanism – through which patient data is transmitted between departments, devices, and doctors. Information is exchanged between this central communication server and various other systems:

  • Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) provides a central repository for digital images that are uploaded by digital imaging devices.
  • The Radiology Information System (RIS) processes the data produced and required by radiology departments.
  • The Hospital Information System (HIS) covers the hospital’s administrative data.
  • The Laboratory Information System (LIS) deals with the data produced and needed by laboratories.

These systems, along with the integration engine, medical devices, and typical IT devices, run on what can be considered the traditional network. That means that hospital IT teams not only face the risk of digital medical devices themselves not working but also the additional – and more traditional – risks of network failures, storage device failures, or server failures. Because when those things fail, data transfer and availability are compromised.

So what should be monitored?

1. Digital Medical Devices

Medical devices are now connected and can send and receive data over the network. The advantage of this is that these devices can be monitored on that same network. The catch? Medical devices do not offer the same monitoring possibilities as other IoT devices, such as SNMP or NetFlow support, so you will need a monitoring tool with specific functionality to monitor these devices. 

2. The Integration Mechanism

The integration engine is the central nervous system (if we want to continue our anatomy metaphor) of the hospital. It is the hub that connects all the systems and data flows in the hospital, and therefore it is imperative to watch it closely. Most servers of this nature offer a RESTful API, and this can be used to retrieve data about the status of the server and its performance.

3. Communication between medical systems

The medical environment uses standard protocols for communication between the integration engine and the peripheral systems. The DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) protocol is used to store and transmit digital medical images. To transfer patient and administrative data, the HL7 protocol is commonly used.

To monitor communication within a medical system, then, it stands to reason that you will need a tool capable of monitoring these protocols. For example, to test whether a DICOM device is storing images correctly, you can use the DICOM C-STORE functionality as a test. You can then get an idea of whether the device is running out of space, whether the device is functional or not, and how much bandwidth it uses.

Similarly, you can get an idea of the overall integrity of the communication by routinely checking HL7 interfaces and ensuring that they are responding to requests.

4. Traditional IT

Sure, it all goes back to the typical network, and the old devices we’ve been monitoring for years: routers, switches, servers … those things aren’t new. What’s new is seeing the metrics from those devices displayed alongside the medical-specific metrics, all on one screen. There are tools that do this, and for digitized, integrated environments like modern medical IT, it’s a critical requirement.