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The digitization of the healthcare industry did not begin with the global outbreak of COVID-19, but the pandemic has certainly accelerated this trend. However, as healthcare IT devices continue to proliferate, so too do the security risks associated with them. But what, exactly, are the threats associated with these mobile healthcare technologies, and what can be done to mitigate them?

Medicine Goes Mobile

Healthcare in recent years has gone increasingly mobile. The ascendancy of telehealth has enabled patients to access their healthcare provider whenever and wherever they may be, often with the mere touch of a tablet, smartphone, or another mobile device.

And while this trend has made quality healthcare more affordable and accessible than ever before, it has also introduced significant vulnerabilities into the healthcare system.

One of the most pernicious and persistent challenges is the threat to patient data borne of improper handling of mobile devices carrying health records and other sensitive data. And the risk lies not just with patients, but also with healthcare providers, for whom a careless moment may lead to a lost or stolen device and the potential theft of patient data.

Unfortunately, failure to keep track of the device isn’t the only risk, however. Perhaps even greater is the threat of security breaches through more subtle means. Unwary users, both patients, and practitioners may, for instance, inadvertently install malware that provides nearly limitless access to records stored on the device or operations performed on it.

And that means that infected devices may be transmitting sensitive data for days, weeks, and even months before the breach is discovered.

The Not-So-Smart Home

Another significant security risk associated with mobile healthcare devices can be a bit more challenging for patients and care providers to recognize and remediate. Modern homes and healthcare facilities alike are increasingly equipped with an array of smart devices designed to make life and communication more convenient.

But all those remote monitors, smart cameras, and voice-assisted technologies can provide an open door to patient data for even the least proficient hacker. This is particularly true when homeowners and clinicians fail to take essential precautions to safeguard their smart devices from security breaches, such as ensuring that all devices are password protected and that smart hubs are equipped with strong firewalls that are routinely updated.

Enlisting the Experts

It’s not just improper handling or the failure to take essential precautions that exacerbate the security risks of mobile healthcare IT devices. For clinicians and healthcare administrators, the failure to incorporate IT security experts into the business model can have devastating consequences for patients and practitioners alike.

Now, more than ever, cybersecurity is a paramount concern for the healthcare industry. Indeed, an increasing number of technologists are choosing to specialize in healthcare IT security to meet the unique and particularly rigorous security needs of the industry. However, the specialized training pursued by these professionals will be moot if healthcare administrators and clinicians do not prioritize the cultivation of a robust IT security infrastructure.

Similarly, patient education on the safe and secure use of mobile medical technologies must be incorporated into the care plan. An often overlooked aspect of this, though, is the challenge of securing patient consent for the use of their data.

This will become an increasingly important security concern as the role of Big Data in healthcare continues to accelerate. Current practices speak to an ever-more ambiguous line between the use of anonymized patient data for research and the pursuit of evidence-based best practices, giving rise to increasingly urgent questions over who owns patient data and how to define ethical use. Thus, questions of security risk on mobile devices must also seek to address matters of informed consent regarding the collection and use of patient data on these devices.

The Takeaway

Mobile devices pose several security risks in the domain of healthcare IT. These risks range from improper handling of the device to the failure to properly secure remote technologies or prioritize IT security in healthcare system business models.