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To manage healthcare IoT devices, prioritize security and access

To manage IoT devices for healthcare, hospital IT must prioritize device security and access control to ensure that patient data is properly protected.

When considering the popularity of wearable technology and other connected medical devices, one can quickly conclude that these low-cost devices that are able to collect health data will be a common sight in hospitals. The size and mobility of these devices make them useful mini-computers to have, as does the value they add when able to collect data from patients. The internet of things continues to attract hospitals and, as a result, will continue to gain adoption in 2018. However, from an IT management perspective, healthcare IoT devices carry a significant burden. IT has to ensure that they are armed with the right tools to ensure they can address security and data privacy concerns.

For hospital IT departments, IoT devices are just more devices that connect to their networks and transmit protected data to either a cloud repository or internal servers. While in theory it would be no different than what other connected devices -- such as laptops and desktops -- are doing, healthcare IoT devices require a whole other set of tools to help manage and protect them. As a result, a number of IT leaders are planning to invest heavily in a new class of IoT management platforms that can help them manage existing or future IoT devices in their environments.

To adequately manage healthcare IoT devices, IT will look for solutions that can deliver a number of key functionalities to help ensure the security of the devices and their health. Here is a list of the top must-have capabilities in an IoT management platform for hospital IT.

Robust device security and connectivity management. One of the top concerns that hospitals have around connected medical devices is ensuring their security. As a result, any implementation of healthcare IoT devices would require a management platform that is capable of monitoring and managing connectivity and overall security. The platform would need to be able to assist in ensuring devices are using secure protocols to communicate, make sure encryption is set and manage traffic for the network designated for the IoT devices.

Comprehensive IoT firmware and software management. With a significant number of IoT devices in the marketplace, it is expected that many of the medical devices are likely to receive frequent software and firmware updates. And since these updates can be bug fixes or patches to known exploits, IT staff have to ensure that they can quickly manage and roll out these updates for any of the devices they are responsible for managing.

Monitoring device health to ensure proper functionality. When a hospital deploys hundreds or thousands of devices throughout its facilities, it is likely that some devices may malfunction or go offline. Since some of these devices may be used in a care setting, it becomes critical for IT to have visibility over which devices are operational and which ones need maintenance and support. Most healthcare IoT devices are able to maintain a link back to the management platform and can share information about the health of the device. 

Device authentication and access restrictions. In the case of hospitals, rolling out IoT devices that collect patient data or any other sensitive information requires them to ensure that these devices are protected and managed. An IoT management platform can assist in ensuring that only authorized devices are collecting and sending health data to the desired endpoints or servers. One method that’s highly recommended is the use of certificates of authentication between the devices and servers, or a list of approved MAC addresses and authentication. Regardless of which option is selected for device authentication, a number of modern IoT management platforms enable the management of device identity and authentication.

Management of incoming data. The final and most valuable aspect of IoT management hospitals need to address is data flow. With the ultimate goal of using the data that healthcare IoT devices collect, having a comprehensive tool that can manage the constant stream of data from these connected devices is a must. Hospitals are likely to store data from IoT devices in either a cloud repository or on premises within their environment. Either option would still require a platform that can ensure the incoming data is distributed and validated prior to its final destination.

Whether hospitals use devices such as connected inhalers, activity trackers or asset tracker tags, there are many obvious reasons why healthcare IoT devices are on the rise and gaining popularity going into 2018. By having the right management platforms for all these devices, IT can be confident that there are easy-to-use tools that will help them keep tabs on all these mini-computers. But for many IT leaders, security still remains one of their biggest concerns as they venture into IoT in 2018. 

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