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With an estimated 400 million medical devices on the market by 2014 and around 8 billion mobile network subscribers by 2016, it seems safe to say that mHealth will occupy a significant chunk of the healthcare landscape in the near future.
And safety and security will be a major requirement from this point on.
From Wednesday's opening keynote of the Privacy & Security Forum, a two-day event organized by Healthcare IT News and HIMSS Media at the Fairmont Copley Hotel in Boston, mHealth was front and center in the conversation.
Tim Zoph, senior vice president for administration and a former CIO of Northwestern Memorial Healthcare in Chicago, said mobile devices and biomedical sensors, driven by both providers and an increasingly engaged consumer, will be commonplace in the healthcare setting, and in need of protections for both the user and the data being developed.
"Most most referred device in healthcare is mobile and it's always on," he said, pointing out that his network has gone from 300 devices in 2009 to more than 2,500 today and expects to have a 1:1 ratio of employees and devices within three years. With the idea that "the closer you get to patients, the better," he pointed out, today's healthcare "is literally converging on the patient."
But that convergence isn't always easy. Zoph cited news reports of pacemakers being hacked and dangers posed to defibrillators, insulin pumps and IV setups as evidence that the connected healthcare setting is not always a safe one. Since 2009, he said, the Department of Health and Human Services has recorded 21 million individual events where patient safety was breached, and that number is rising by 1 million each year.
The problem, he said, lies in the complexity of the mobile environment, where providers and patients are both connected and new devices are showing up faster than they can be evaluated and secured.
"We're heading down a path ... but we're not doing it with the forethought of security," he said.
Zoph offered six suggestions for providers looking to "create a culture for security." They are:
1. Ensure buy-in from both ends of the spectrum - management as well as physicians
2. Develop protocols for medical device platforms
3. Consider the patient first when deciding how to enforce security measures
4. Share both vulnerabilities and best practices with other providers
5. Create or use a simulation center for all new mobile devices
6. Create the position of a biomedical network manager
Zoph said healthcare has been operating in a state of "blissful isolation" for years, and needs to break down those barriers that have developed through competition. Even inside the hospital itself, he pointed out, different departments have different legacy systems in place, making it difficult to create a cohesive security network.
"The problem with healthcare is we started too local," he said. "And now we're going to have to manage the mess."
He concluded by saying the move to patient-centered healthcare would compel institutions to adopt better security measures, as patients won't put up with the "just good enough" philosophy adopted by healthcare administrators.
"Consumerism is going to drive new levels of accountability and transparency that we haven't seen yet," he said.
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