GAO Recommendations for Tracking Growth of “Internet of Things” Will Also Benefit Telehealth Devices

A report recently released by the Government Accountability Office recommends that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) track the growth of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), including physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, medical equipment and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity.  The strategies recommended in the report will be important for helping ensure the continuing functionality of connected telehealth medical devices and equipment during what is projected to be a time of rapid growth in their use, says Sam Hanna, director of the HealthInformatics@GW program.  

GAO’s report, “Internet of Things:  FCC Should Track Growth to Ensure Sufficient Spectrum Remains Available” points out that as the IoT expands, challenges will arise in maintaining the availability of spectrum and managing interference.  The report explains that FCC staff and some stakeholders say that rapid increases in IoT devices that use large amounts of spectrum—called high-bandwidth devices—could quickly overwhelm networks, as happened with smart phones.  The report points out that managing interference is becoming more challenging as the number of IoT and other wireless devices grows.

Devices in the Internet of Medical Things include wearables, such as Fitbits and Apple Watches, implantable devices that can monitor and report body reactions, and ingestibles containing chips that transmit data to medical providers.  “Given the current and impending explosive growth of big data and connected Internet of Things devices, tracking of key areas that would consume the most bandwidth is essential to understanding the impact and to addressing the needs to prepare for further capacity,” Hanna says.  Because of the sensitive and important nature of the medical data that devices in the Internet of Medical Things collect, he says, it will be crucial for the FCC and other stakeholders in this area to monitor and understand issues related to interference and disruption as more devices come online.