How the Internet of Things could make or break your medical practice

The IOT (Internet of Things), where basically any type of IoT-enabled device can be connected to the internet, opens up huge opportunities for organisations but also presents many challenges. For medical and dental practices, an expanded IoT network promises new levels of patient monitoring and management – but you need to tread carefully.

Online and offline worlds converging

Despite living in an increasingly connected world, it’s understandable to view ‘things’ or equipment differently to being online. So as a practice manager or owner, you’ve probably engaged IT service providers to help keep your systems running smoothly, but consider your equipment as something separate which can be simply plugged into the network when needed.

However, there is a potential danger in this ‘plug and play’ or DIY approach because by being connected to a network you could be sharing important data such as patient information. Have you talked to your IT expert when adding devices or equipment to your network or making changes to these connections? Keep in mind that the people who look after the installation or maintenance of your medical equipment are not IT professionals.

Privacy is always a major concern with medical records. But the expansion of IoT means there is an increasing number of embedded sensors automatically collecting and storing patient information, so maintaining security is more critical than ever.

‘Switching off’ can be ‘game on’ to hackers

The IoT trend is developing fast but it is still in the early days of the technology curve. This means that your IoT-enabled medical equipment is the weakest link and most vulnerable to hackers. Are you compromising the security of your network because of the way connected equipment is handled in your practice?

Some of the examples we’ve seen include an autoclave machine installer saying: “The firewall is affecting it, let’s turn it off”. Other instances include anti-virus programs which had been suspended and forgotten about, and data from connected equipment not being included in regular back-ups of the rest of the network.

Are you an office manager, practice manager or owner in a dental surgery? The new rules on sterilisation mean that more dental practices are looking at installing or upgrading their autoclave to cut down on manual processes.

If you’re considering purchasing this type of equipment, you will need to ensure that it is installed correctly without compromising security. Medical equipment vendors won’t help you make it function properly on the network. Your autoclave also needs to be monitored and audited on a regular basis to make sure it’s performing as it should be.

Watch out for the IoT multiplier effect

The more things are connected the greater are the demands on your IT structure. It’s not just the connected devices per se that are a potential problem. Adding equipment to your network amplifies the amount of information in your systems which means your existing databases, for example, may not be able to handle this.

To leverage the possibilities that IoT can bring, your systems need to be capable of organising and integrating a larger volume of data. This becomes an increasingly complex task as more devices are added to the network, so if you have concerns about keeping track of all your connected devices it may be time to talk to your IT experts.

Another consideration is managing and keeping track of how users access your system. For example, do you have effective procedures in place for password management? Is access provided only to those people with appropriate levels of authorisation?

From working with a number of medical practices, we’ve found that ‘home-grown’ solutions to address the problem of increased complexity or attempting to keep up with changes on an ad hoc basis can quickly become unmanageable.

Taking care of your IoT network

IoT is a key part of the new wave of digital transformation affecting organisations today. For industries such as healthcare that accesses and stores confidential information, it’s critical that you know how this data is being managed.

The more connected devices you have, the greater number of vulnerability points are susceptible to hackers and the more time you are likely to be spending troubleshooting rather than managing your practice.

Talk to Correct Solutions. We have expertise in maintaining the security of equipment-connected networks.