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Wireless Wellness-Monitoring, How Safe is it?

26 July, 2012 | medical equipment, Medical Software, News

Although only 5 % of all medical devices have wireless capabilities, a recent study by the IMS indicates that 35 % of wireless-enabled medical devices sold in 2016 will be powered by Bluetooth technology. This projection suggests industry optimism that the Medical Field is in the process of embracing wireless wellness-monitoring as part of common medical practice.

Bluetooth Smart is Bluetooth’s brand for wireless medical devices that collect specific monitoring data and submit them to a variety of compatible mobile Bluetooth Smart Ready devices. Today, there are Bluetooth Smart products that track parameters for heart, glucose and blood pressure in medical facilities, taking advantage of low power usage and long battery life.

Bluetooth technology is significant to mobile medical wellness monitoring because it provides a widely used infrastructure to collect and share medical data for medical assessment. The benefits allow patients to be able to easily receive multiple medical opinions and faster attention should their condition suddenly change. In spite of these advantages however, Bluetooth technology has been slow to catch on in the medical industry because of its higher costs and security vulnerabilities placing patients and Hospital Information Systems at risk.

Security specialists have found worrying breakdowns in wireless security:

• Within 300 meters of the device, wireless insulin pumps could be compromised.
• Implantable medical devices such as pacemakers that transmit information could be infiltrated, data accessed and/or new commands executed, giving the patient an electric shock or ceasing the device’s functionality.

But how susceptible is Bluetooth technology to hacking? According to an article on blog platform, HubPages, outlining Bluetooth Hacks and Bluetooth device security issues, both the devices and data transmitted are susceptible to being intercepted or high jacked for malicious or otherwise unauthorized intent. Security specialists feel that hospital IT staff can’t properly apply a reasonable security plan to secure mobile medical devices because the problem must be first addressed at the manufacturing level.
So although mobile medical devices and wireless monitoring is on the rise, awareness of security vulnerabilities in wireless technology is only beginning to be raised. In order to mitigate potential damages and risks to patients and hospitals, better controls should be applied both by governmental licensing bodies like the FDA and by manufacturers themselves to ensure the secure flow of wireless data and medical device operation.