Is SIM-ple really best for healthcare connectivity?

Executive chair of InnoScot Health Graham Watson discusses SIM-enabled benefits for medical device innovation.

Connectivity is everything in modern healthcare – from the ability to immediately access vital patient data, to integrating more green, efficient energy practices throughout NHS facilities, and providing effective methods of communication for clinicians and patients alike.

Amid recovery, renewal, and transformation, we are now of course seeing a firm shift towards medical device-led healthcare which increasingly requires improved connectivity so that networking across management, diagnostics, therapy, and more can be effectively implemented.

There are many reasons for this transition – among them, the heightened mobility that results from the elimination of cables which keep patients confined to beds; the opportunity to empower them in their own care; and the ability for healthcare staff to quickly and easily communicate at distance.

However, while 5G performs well in most instances, it is not always the optimum solution for modern healthcare. 

Many no longer think of the humble SIM card as being a key part of that modern connectivity ecosystem. After all, they’ve been around since the first mobile phones as we now know were introduced in the mid to late 90s – the forebears of today’s smartphones – so aren’t typically thought of as cutting edge.

In a healthcare context though, SIM can offer distinct advantages over Wi-Fi – considered the contemporary mainstay of connectivity, but one which fails to ensure any prioritisation of traffic so it cannot guarantee seamless communication between devices.

Indeed, Wi-Fi presents several challenges for modern healthcare. Take the everyday example of an average person conducting a video call outdoors or attempting to simply browse the internet when on the move – it can be frustrating and quite often it is a struggle to maintain a stable connection. 

Then transplant that example to a fast-moving ambulance where the need to have that stable Wi-Fi connection is far greater, allowing A&E doctors to assess and monitor the condition of incoming patients before they arrive, or for basic mobile device communication to be maintained between healthcare professionals.

Any Wi-Fi-dependent device can also suffer interference problems which naturally means an adverse effect on performance. That can potentially be critical in emergency situations.

In less time-dependent circumstances – moving medical devices from ward to ward or operating outside of traditional healthcare settings for instance – effective portability still depends on seamless connectivity.

Furthermore, hospitals are generally high footfall places, leading to overburdened Wi-Fi-connected medical devices, whether stationary or portable, and less reliability for critical communications.

Now, with Wi-Fi continuing to present occasional issues, medical equipment manufacturers are increasingly opting to integrate SIM cards into their devices. 

SIM cards for connected medical devices work in the same way as those you might find in any smartphone but are specifically designed for the healthcare field, enabling more robust, reliable, and efficient connectivity through cellular networks.

That means, for instance, more dependable tracking of a patient’s condition, data generated by connected medical devices that is transmitted reliably in real-time, as well as easier, more assured clinical decision-making from what is observed from that data.

SIM cards can be embedded in a wide spectrum of modern medical devices – from portable ECGs and smart scales to blood pressure monitors, or even medicine-delivering drones, currently being trialled across Scotland and for which reliable navigation and tracking is vital.

SIM enablement also allows emergency texts or calls when there is no data service available.

Aside from those key benefits, SIM-enabled cellular connectivity offers another vital healthcare advantage over Wi-Fi – its secure connection better protects sensitive medical data through stronger encryption.

During the pandemic, remote monitoring took on new meaning, not only helping to prevent the spread of COVID and enabling clinicians to quickly collect and analyse data for any abnormalities that could require intervention through proactive, predictive, personalised care, but also reducing the travel burden on patients while increasing quality of life.

SIM-enabled devices such as smart wearables support better remote transfer of this valuable information, both securely and in real-time, independent of location.

InnoScot Health believes that an important facet of its role is to ensure it continues to monitor and analyse trends in healthcare to help inspire and optimise the shaping of new ideas, in turn allowing us to provide the best possible advice and expertise to innovators across Scotland.

As digitisation through strong, secure connectivity becomes ever more important in 2024 with healthcare looking to innovate and scale up faster but with fewer resources, we believe that seamless medical device roll outs will be a big part of the collaborative, connected ambition – and the trusty SIM card may just be the best way to achieve it.

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.