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Healthcare IoT devices cause security, management worries

Rolling out IoT devices in healthcare facilities is more feasible than ever before, but there remain a few reasons why some providers are holding off full-scale deployments.

The demand for more connected technology has contributed to the popularity of Internet of Things devices. In healthcare...

in the last few decades, network-ready devices have helped hospitals with patient care. These devices monitor patients' vital signs and collect a number of critical clinical data elements during care episodes.

Network-connected devices offer powerful computing capabilities and are significantly more affordable than traditional hardware. Since becoming aware of enterprise-wide implementations of IoT medical devices, health IT executives are looking to identify the benefits and risks associated with them.

When considering all the applications of IoT medical devices, it becomes easier to justify a widespread implementation of IoT. Simply put, connected devices allow users to collect and push clinical data to the cloud or a local server at a low cost. Collecting clinical data without the use of clinical resources is more efficient than traditional data capturing methods and can lead to the creation of a mountain of health information that can be analyzed. Despite the easily identifiable value of using IoT devices in healthcare facilities, there are three areas that can prevent a real-life implementation from being successfully completed.

Possible downsides of healthcare IoT devices

Device management concerns
IoT devices are available from a number of different manufacturers, including Intel, Raspberry Pi, Arduino and BeagleBone Black. Hospitals have the option to either build their own devices or purchase some with preloaded functionalities.

These devices must be managed after they've been bought. Managing IoT devices requires a different set of tools than those that are often used to manage desktop computers, tablets and smartphones. In most implementations, IoT hardware requires firmware upgrades, connectivity monitoring, tampering detection and strong security safeguards. As a result, an IT department must design new protection processes and adopt a management platform to ensure all those aspects of the devices are addressed. Products such as Microsoft's Azure Event Hubs and Salesforce IoT Cloud can help oversee users' devices and data.

Data breach fears
The security aspect of managing healthcare IoT devices is likely to be the most important issue on the minds of IT executives. These devices are available and being used by tech enthusiasts at home and in the enterprise. Their accessibility makes them easier targets for hackers looking to exploit their weaknesses. It is critical to protect any data transferred to or from the devices. The devices should also be secured. The current marketplace has a very limited set of tools that can protect IoT devices, but the growing interest in IoT will likely drive more innovation in IoT security.

What to do with the data?
The use of IoT medical devices means that hospitals are able to collect continuous streams of data. Examples of this are monitoring the vital signs of a patient or measuring the air quality in an intensive care unit. Collecting a larger quantity of data usually means higher storage costs. To address this, several cloud vendors offer services that can securely receive and hold such data. Once the information is transmitted out of the IoT devices, the cloud vendors then allow the end users to apply different analytics tools on their data on a pay-as-you-go basis.

As healthcare organizations evaluate the different connected medical devices, they should carefully consider past use cases that clearly show how the devices are positively affecting patient outcomes. Before releasing any IoT devices into their facilities, providers should also confirm that they can protect the devices with available security tools and policies.

Next Steps

Healthcare IoT devices and how they alter the patient experience

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This was last published in March 2016

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