Almost every sector of society is evolving and making use, one way or another, of the technical innovations that are arising, and Health is not an exception.
Medicine evolution has historically been linked to scientific innovations, but also to technical and technological ones. Since the use of the first mechanical tools, medical instrumentation has continually and dramatically improved. Precision surgery machines are quite spread and it’s not unusual to find systems such as the Da Vinci robot (a robotic surgery equipment) in operating rooms across many countries.
Internet of things…and people
IoT devices are particularly being used to yield a number of innovation projects within the Health sector. And with the goal of enabling organisations (and people) prototyping and validating their different proposals and use cases around IoT, the Spanish company Libelium (a manufacturer of this kind of devices) has a medical development kit on sale that facilitates the process. Through a variety of sensors capable of measuring up to 20 biometric parameters and access to Libelium’s cloud platform, you can build and program different projects in quite an easy way.
One of the most common uses of IoT in this field is monitoring patients that are either under a special treatment or needing some kind of remote assistance.
In this line, Fujitsu announced and launched a few months ago a pilot project in a Dutch hospital to monitor and accelerate the rehabilitation process of patients. Using smart sensors that capture the movement, balance and other vital constants, doctors at the hospital can remotely track patients’ progress during their recovery process.
Another interesting project is the one announced last February by Altair, Ericsson and Sony Mobile. A wristband connected to a device called Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) monitors blood sugar levels, activity, sleep and heart rate. It can even send alerts to the user or the doctor under certain events, for instance when glucose levels drop, and it doesn’t require a smartphone to operate.
Data is king
Another upward trend in technology that is also being leveraged by the Health sector is Big Data. There are more than 300 million medical consultations per year, and that’s just in Spain; the amount of useful data that you could extract from them is huge. That is, actually, the value proposition that a company called IOMED offers; through a set of data and intelligence analysis tools, they structure the information obtained after each consultation and enable other doctors to make better and faster diagnosis thanks to that a vast amount of additional information they can access.
The smartphone as your doctor’s office
However, innovations not always imply the use of new medical instrumentation, smart objects or complex software algorithms. Sometimes it’s just a matter of optimizing processes, such as improving doctor-patient communication.
Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones we have experienced in the last decade, we have seen how some companies are offering patient care services through mobile apps. A good example is Mediquo, an application that allows patients to chat with their doctors and specialists 24/7 and, at the same time, allows doctors keep track on their patient’s evolution remotely and in a comfortable way.
The security challenge
The breakthrough these innovations are producing makes the Health sector face a major challenge: cybersecurity.
Cyberattacks and data steals are increasingly making a big noise and appearing in the front pages of the mass media. It’s easy for many of us to recall some famous events of this kind happening recently. In the Health sector, the problem gets more serious as the data and information being handled is extremely sensitive. Therefore, having protection and prevention mechanisms against potential attacks is crucial.
But data privacy protection is not the only concern; IoT devices are frequently the target of many cyberattacks. It is (literally) vital to provide devices such as remote insulin providers or heart pacemaker devices with the necessary degree of security so that we protect them from any cyberattack attempt. Just a few weeks ago, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology issued a paper reminding the risks these cardiac implantable electronic devices face and giving some recommendations to deal with the challenge of protecting patients for malicious attacks.
Regarding public administrations, there are not too many initiatives focusing on cybersecurity for Health. However, it’s worth to mention that, in 2016, the European Union announced a public-private partnership around cybersecurity in which they expect to invest up to 1.8 billion € until 2020. The proposal details actions to foster the cyber-resilience of IT systems as well as enhancing EU’s cybersecurity policies, including a European certification framework for ICT security products.
Ensuring the integrity of devices and minimizing the impact of potential cyberattacks is a task that must be shared by all agents involved: public administrations, companies and users. One hopes that the remarkable growth these technologies and devices are having does not prevent companies from having a proper security-by-design approach when making their products, especially if they are aimed for the Health sector.