Service Assurance goes Beyond Telecom
The way we communicate is expanding beyond human to human – to machine to human or machine to machine.  This machine-driven world of digital messages is impacting practically every industry, generating valuable insights from newly connected devices. But with all these machines talking to each other, how will all this disparate information from thousands of different devices be managed?

What will be needed are specialists and software that perform similar functions to today’s telecom network operations centers, or NOCs. Designed to collect, correlate and analyze all the bits and bytes coming from any number of connected devices.  In this blog post we look at how a large wireless carrier is creating a medical operations center (MOC) for the healthcare industry, and how TEOCO used its expertise in service assurance to extend its capabilities beyond the traditional telecom network.

We are Growing Older
Between 2015 and 2030, the number of people over 60 years of age is expected to grow by 56%, to nearly 1.5 billion, which means far more people will need nursing care.  How will society keep up with demand? It turns out that with the help of a new wave of IoT connected medical devices, the elderly may now be able to reduce the number of doctor and hospital visits and be treated at home. Virtualized medicine is what will allow doctors and hospitals to scale to meet the demands of our aging population.

The World of IoMT
Today, there are already nearly 4 million medical devices in use that are connected to the internet to monitor various parts of the body to inform healthcare decisions. It’s called the Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT. In this proof of concept, TEOCO worked with a European wireless carrier that is interested in expanding its connections and services for virtualized medicine. The project focused on a specific device – medical alert buttons, sometimes called ‘panic buttons’. These devices are worn by the user and connect wirelessly. If the wearer is alone and experiences a serious injury or sudden health emergency, they simply push the button and an agent is alerted to possible problems. The medical device vendor then notifies first responders and family members who take action.

When a medical alert button is activated, first responders typically receive little or no background information on the patient, impacting their ability to make intelligent decisions on how to manage the situation.   With more information, responders and family members can get a clearer picture of what is happening and how to respond.  The benefit of IoMT is that machines can talk to other machines- exchanging critical data to paint a more cohesive picture of the situation. For example, if the patient is wearing other connected devices, like a heart or blood pressure monitor, this data can become part of the decision-making process. Perhaps the patient forgot to take their medication, or maybe the alert was activated from the bathroom – a common place for falls and accidents. When all this information can be assessed holistically in real-time, it reduces false alarms and provides a better roadmap for how to respond.

Alert Fatigue
While medical alert devices can save lives, they are also known for creating false alarms.  With a simple binary response- emergency or no emergency- their simplicity comes at a cost.   The button can get pressed accidentally, or when patients feel lonely or have non-emergency health concerns they may become ‘abusers’ of the service. As more and more medical devices become connected, the number of alerts and alarms will increase substantially. A 2014 study found that the monitors in a typical hospital’s intensive care unit generated more than 2 million alerts in one month, translating to 187 warnings per patient per day. It’s been proven that alert fatigue increases with growing exposure, and this finding raises the important implication that without system redesign, the safety consequences of alert fatigue will likely become more serious over time.  In a more connected IoMT world, these alarms will move out of hospitals and into homes. While data from these devices can save lives, it can also become a burden, and even put lives at risk – if we aren’t able to manage it responsibly.

From NOC to MOC
For IoMT to truly be transformative, healthcare organizations and their technology partners will need to figure out how to turn all the data it collects into insights that can inform action.  TEOCO believes that the best way forward is to take a lesson from how carriers monitor their networks today. Network Operations Centers (NOCs) are responsible for monitoring and assuring telecom networks and services. Looking for power failures, network alarms and other performance issues that may affect the user experience.   It is our belief that specialized NOCs will be needed by many industries to manage and analyze the growing amounts of data being generated from our new world of interconnected things. But instead of telecom network fault and performance metrics, the data being assessed might be medical, farming, smart city, smart car, or supply chain related.  Most businesses don’t have their own version of a NOC. This is where service providers can add value, by doing what they are already good at- collecting, correlating and analyzing data across networks, systems and devices.

New partnerships and ecosystems are developing today with this in mind. While the momentum of this transformation is increasing, it will require hospital administrators, manufacturers, communications service providers and technology vendors to work together to drive healthcare’s cultural metamorphosis.  TEOCO’s service assurance solutions are designed with the flexibility needed to go beyond the NOC, to other industries that share the need for ensuring quality digital services to their customers.