Healthcare IT pros: Watch for smart hospitals cresting the horizon

14/06/20184 Minute Read

Imagine this: You visit the local hospital with a medical problem. Within a few moments of arrival, a machine checks your identity, and a smart device takes your vitals. Your medical history is collected automatically from a centrally held medical record, and the data is supplemented with a triage process attended by a human.

In the potential smart hospitals of the future, that information would come together quickly, and without further delay, you’d be whisked off for blood analysis, x-rays, and other diagnostic tests as indicated by the triage process. Within moments, automated systems would provide a doctor with potential diagnoses and treatment paths. While this type of hyper-smart medical care may not be the norm right now, Future Health Index predicts it could become a reality by 2020. That said, all those connected devices and services found in a smart hospital rely on the medical profession’s most important asset: trust.

This trust will depend on endpoint security that ensures all data is accessed by the right people at the right time. It will rely on the smooth flow of information and cooperation, and that cooperation won’t just be between healthcare professionals and their patients but also between the different devices collecting, analysing, and delivering information across the hospital network.

Why should a hospital be smart?

Smart hospitals use technology to deliver better outcomes for patients. That involves everything from registration when the patient arrives, as well as the triage and diagnostic processes, to the delivery of care and ongoing patient care after they leave the hospital.

Although there’s a perception that the healthcare industry is behind the times, certain institutions are making major advances. Hospitals are seeing the opportunities coming from the application of machine learning by bringing together the data collected by new IoT medical devices. For example, let’s say a young child arrives at a smart hospital after falling from a bicycle. Once the child is identified and the cause of the injury is confirmed, he is taken for an x-ray. The image is captured and sent to a system that can “view” it and identify the precise location of a fracture, as well as other information—such as whether any bones are displaced.

Recent research has found that artificial intelligence (AI) would be able to successfully analyse these x-rays to provide a diagnosis. While this is still an emerging area of technology, it allows health professionals to deliver diagnoses faster and more accurately than manual examination. Once an AI has read the child’s x-rays, his doctor can use smart technology to quickly view the results.

Magruder Hospital uses staff badges to automatically unlock computers as personnel enter a room. Doing so allows them to access patient information faster than before, allaying stress in patients by not keeping them waiting for information. A computer system can then specify the correct treatment and, once the child’s medical history has been accessed, suggest a list of potential pain management medications that take into account the patient’s allergies or other specific needs. All this can happen in a fraction of the time currently taken up by the development of x-rays, the manual examination of the images, and the process of deciding between potential treatment options.

These tools exist today—they only need to be implemented. But progressing to this level of healthcare technology comes with its fair share of challenges.

Ensuring endpoint security in smart hospitals

In a smart hospital, almost every diagnostic tool, analytics system, or information collection and delivery device is an endpoint that needs securing. However, the creators of some connected medical devices have demonstrated a limited understanding of the security issues additional endpoints create.

Endpoint security needs to be considered, but simply installing security software on a device isn’t viable. It’s unlikely the creator of a connected MRI machine will allow the installation of third-party security software, which means all inbound and outbound traffic to that device needs to be limited to only trusted locations and monitored for anomalies. Even the office printer can be a potential point of vulnerability, if overlooked. That’s why it’s important to look for printers with built-in security features, like integrated intrusion detection and self-healing. Such devices set the standard for how endpoint security can be achieved on IoT devices.

Meeting the challenges of smart medical tech

As more systems are interconnected, patient information can, potentially, be accessed by more parties. Smart hospitals will need to work hard to create secure systems and processes that respect patient privacy and demonstrate to patients how their personal data is protected from unauthorised access.

Smart hospitals will also depend on network capacity—both within the hospital and when sending information to external service providers. The success of these hospitals will largely rest on the ability to move data seamlessly and securely from the devices collecting it to the healthcare professionals who use it. Without safe and reliable data transfer, it’s not possible for the hospital of tomorrow to collect and share data to the extent it’ll need to.

Despite all these challenges, however, smart hospitals are on the horizon. Failing to take advantage of new technologies could reduce the quality of care and potentially lose you patients. The question facing healthcare providers is not whether they will join the smart hospital movement, but how they can do so most securely and effectively.

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