The trend of using wireless technologies in medical devices is relatively new, but is expected to increase in the future due to its benefits in cutting healthcare costs and increasing accessibility for patients and healthcare professionals.
Beyond allowing doctors to care for patients from just about anywhere, wireless applications have the potential to greatly improve care by providing real-time access to a patient’s medical history including treatments, medications, laboratory tests and insurance information.
Such devices will also reduce patient stress, removing the burden of having to show up at the hospital every day for a blood pressure check for example. Instead patients can use wireless sensors that send their blood pressure information to the doctors in real time.
With any new technology, however, there is always risk, and with increased use of these devices, so increases the risk of data theft and attacks on device privacy. Another possible drawback is a lack of access to a dedicated wireless spectrum as well as the possibility of electromagnetic and other interference between devices.
While wireless communications technology in medical devices greatly enhances their usage, it also brings with it the risks of data theft and attacks on device privacy. Since these devices use the internet as the communications backbone they are likely to invite attacks. There are several privacy enhancing technologies available for wireless medical devices but the cost related to these technologies far outweigh the benefits.
In 2008, researchers from three US universities – University of Washington, Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst demonstrated how to use wireless hacking techniques to access a combination heart defibrillator and pacemaker.
These researchers used their wireless access to steal personal information from the device and to induce fatal heart rhythms by taking control of the system. They reported that the data from such devices can be stolen without the patient realising it.
After this study, the US FDA said that it was working on raising the standards of security of medical devices that receive instructions in a wireless manner but had not finalised them. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency from the UK said that it has never received any reports of hacking associated with implantable devices.