The Internet of Things permeates every aspect of our lives, including medical devices. There are tremendous benefits for patients, their providers and society as a whole. These benefits include:
- Earlier detection of complications or worsening of health status
- Assessment of the efficacy of treatment plans
- Reduced costs
- Increased productivity through improved population health
With increased connectivity comes increased risk. Some risks are perceived and others are very real. There was quite a bit of hullabaloo around Y2K and the anticipation of the chaos that was supposed to come at 23:59:59, but it didn’t materialize. Being a clinician, I remember patients worrying about whether their medical devices, particularly pacemakers, would malfunction. But most medical devices then were standalone and did not pose a great security risk.
Fast-forward to 2014: Patient use of connected devices is increasing every day. Most of these connected devices are data collectors, but more and more are used to help sustain life: infusion pumps delivering medications and nourishment; remote monitoring systems; and ventilators, to name a few. These devices are extremely vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and the risk of hackers controlling them remotely — with potentially disastrous consequences for patients — is very real.
Healthcare software companies need to exercise the same level of information security vigilance with medical devices as they do with other healthcare systems. With patients’ lives at stake, we cannot be reactionary; we must stay ahead of the threat.
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