Bringing the hospital into the Internet of things, and what that means for cyber security...
Picture a day at the hospital of the future. Every room you walk into has advanced sensors that can identify you, whether you are a patient or a caretaker, and react to you accordingly. These sensors make every room interactive, tracking your movements, whereabouts and monitoring your vitals. Each surface is a smart surface, displaying entertainment for the patients or information for the caregivers depending on the person and their preferences. The beds, the equipment, even the light bulbs all serve to monitor, track, and optimize for patient care and efficiency. In this hospital room, there are no tripping hazards as everything is mobile and wireless.
Beyond the immediate physical ramifications, a completely wireless and intercommunicating system like this operating on a cloud can also be smart and responsive. Issues like alarm fatigue could be dramatically decreased because of an integrated and interconnected system that not only understands each patient's history and medical needs, but also the customized thresholds and signs that require immediate caregiver attention. The chances of a false alarm could be drastically decreased as these hardware, software merged devices and environment are calibrated for the individual patient's needs. The hospital bed itself could notify a nurse to turn a patient to avoid bed sores, and the light bulbs could track the movement of personnel through the hospital, providing an additional layer of security or empowering the cloud.
For better or worse, most of these technologies are already in development, and some of it is already functional in other fields. More and more objects are joining the Internet of things, including hospital beds, though many may wonder about the efficacy of such a development. While a hospital of the future might inevitably be populated with wireless beds and medical equipment connected on a cloud, the question remains, is it a good idea?
With so many other industries moving towards wireless integration, it would make sense for the medical industry to follow suite and march confidently into the future. Personalized medicine and treatment is becoming increasingly possible and applicable. In the effort to treat each patient as a unique case with a unique treatment plan, adding medical equipment to the Internet of things could render a treatment plan for patients holistic and personally calibrated to their exact needs easily. This could reduce the potential for human error as computers monitor patients wherever they happen to be in the hospital.
As an industry that values innovation, why should the embrace of this technology be greeted with anything other than open arms? Perhaps the answer to this question is best answered by tech journalists who have famously documented their experiences getting hacked by "white hat" hackers.
White hat hackers, unlike black hat hackers, try to penetrate digital security systems to point out its flaws and come up with better solutions to help protect digital security. Through a combination of malware, phishing and good old fashioned exploitation of human error, these hackers have demonstrated that no system is invincible and no one is entirely safe. The best asset that most of us have going for us personally, is that we are thoroughly uninteresting to most hackers.
Hospitals on the other hand, hold a wealth of knowledge for plenty of black-hat hackers. Not only do they sit on a pile of social security numbers, home addresses, and billing information, but they also hold the jackpot of medical records as well. If the entire hospital is networked into a data infrastructure ecosystem that monitors and records patient data, treatment and movement, then health care facilities will become even more likely to be targeted for hacking because of their repository of valuable data.
Thus, while we move towards a glorious wireless future, is it worth the trade off of hacks that have the potential to wreak havoc in worse ways than they are currently capable of? Is the industry willing to accept that someone might hack into, and take over the wireless system that runs the hospital of the future? Many industries face the same dilemma. Look at the fantastic technologies that are being added to cars, with smart systems and navigation built into their operating systems. The trade off is knowing that at any given time, someone could potentially hack into that car and remotely take control or shut it off. Is this something we are willing to accept in our hospitals and medical equipment?
As exciting as the new products being rolled out are, there are always consequences that must be considered. With wireless beds becoming the next innovation in the medical equipment industry, hospitals must carefully consider how much and how quickly they want to adapt these new technologies, and whether or not they have the resources to mitigate the possible negative consequences.
In the meantime, Stryker, Hill-Rom, ArjoHuntleigh, Linet and Carroll all make fantastic electric hospital beds that are made to last. They may still need wires to plug into a nurse call system and interface unit, but at least they are a much less risk of being targeted or hijacked by a hacker.
Virginia Tech: Hospitals Unwired
Tech Times: Kevin Roose Hacked