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Hospital IT must manage, secure remote patient monitoring devices

With more physicians prescribing wearables and other remote patient monitoring technology to patients, hospital IT must be aware of security and management challenges.

Ever since physicians began prescribing wearables and connected devices to patients, they have had to answer three...

questions: What value do they bring to patients, how much do they cost, and are they secure enough? The number of these devices on the marketplace is increasing with the continued innovation in the IoT space, subsequently making it a common occurrence for physicians to send them home with patients and hospital IT to help manage their deployments.

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) has seen significant growth in recent years. RPM allows physicians and nurses to monitor a patient's condition without having to come to the physician's office. Many of the existing devices currently available collect and monitor vital signs, glucose levels in the blood, and even heart rate in the case of ECGs. With the increasing pressure on hospitals to reduce patient readmissions, connected medical devices have provided an opportunity for several hospitals to leverage remote monitoring capabilities to reduce their readmission rate and avoid the penalties imposed by CMS.

From an IT perspective, the devices that are sent home with patients are usually easy to deploy and manage. Many of them can be set up in the same fashion as consumer wearables, and most patients can begin transmitting their data within minutes. For those cases where patients may be prescribed multiple devices to take home and use, it is not uncommon for a hospital to provide them with a centralized device hub that can consolidate the management of the devices and the transmission of their data.

As a result of the increase in adoption of these medical devices, hospital IT staff are dealing with four major areas in which they have had to make adjustments.

Managing the security aspect of medical devices outside the hospital walls

When patients take remote patient monitoring devices home, it is very unlikely that a hospital would dispatch its IT staff to assess the patient's home environment. As a result, hospital IT must ensure that the remote patient monitoring technology being sent home with patients can still function securely without significant complexity or changes to the patient's network environment. IT must rely heavily on the security protocols available within the devices being deployed to ensure data is transmitted securely, and would need to question and document what those device security capabilities are.

Supporting patients who experience technical challenges

As the use of connected medical devices increases, the likelihood of patients needing assistance and support can be expected. From a patient's perspective, hospital IT would be the primary contact for assistance, but many hospital executives are outsourcing the initial device support to the device makers. This seems to help keep the IT team focused on all the internal systems within the hospital facilities, while all experts in those connected devices are assisting the patients directly.

With the adoption of remote patient monitoring devices, 'Just take these home and connect to the internet and they will send me the information I need' may become commonly spoken words by physicians.

Using data to add value to the hospital and patient experience

With the aim to improve patients' health and reduce hospital readmissions, the collection and monitoring of data is the key to success. Hospitals focus on data connectivity and integration with their own electronic health records systems in order to detect any changes in the patient's health that would require a physician's intervention. The data extracted from these devices becomes a valuable asset for hospitals and the device integration capabilities as a major criterion for selection and adoption.

Making devices more consumer-friendly to increase adoption

The success of fitness trackers and other activity tracking devices have signaled that consumers are ready to adopt wearables; hospitals have considered the same principle when working with medical devices that are sent home with patients. Many of the prescribed remote patient monitoring devices look and act similarly to consumer products in this category. This approach allows patients to set up and manage the devices themselves without any IT help and encourages them to become more engaged with their own monitoring.

With the adoption of remote patient monitoring devices, "Just take these home and connect to the internet and they will send me the information I need" may become commonly spoken words by physicians. With the increasing focus by tech giants such as Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft in the healthcare space and their devices in the marketplace, more devices will be sent home with patients and will continue to push hospitals to have a bigger implementation of these devices.

Next Steps

What are the security risks of healthcare IoT?

Growth of patient data drives adoption of cloud in healthcare

Physicians concerned about IoT medical device security

This was last published in October 2016

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How does your hospital IT staff manage remote patient monitoring devices?
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I think the market will emerge to have third party "remote patient monitoring solutions" such as holter monitor model available today. Hospital IT systems are not designed to extend their offers beyond hospital infrastructure and as a facility support division, they should not as well. Hospitals can instead "subscribe" or "contract" with a third party provider.
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