Can Your Device Talk? The Future Of Connected Medical Technology

Connected Medical Technology Device

When it comes to healthcare, we’re moving into a different world. The combination of biotechnology and advances in computing/AI means that it’s simply unethical to continue doing things the way they’ve always been done. Forward momentum is inevitable. 

But, of course, these are risks. While technological developments are exciting, they are also pumping up the dangers of patients losing data or receiving experimental treatment. 

According to medical device cybersecurity company Blue Goat, this phenomenon is already underway. And it requires massive industry effort to render it safe. 

“Medical devices are essentially just extensions of the Internet of Things,” company founder Christian Espinosa explains. “Like other internet-connected devices, these acquire vast amounts of data before sending it off for analysis by medical professionals.”

The problem, he says, is that many medical practitioners simply aren’t ready for the risks. Data handling hasn’t caught up to the levels it’s at in other channels. 

“Most general practitioners know they must protect patient data on servers and their computers using fancy HIPAA-compliant security systems. But the same risks are also present on non-HIPAA-connected devices. In many ways, the danger is higher because few medical practices consider their entire digital attack surface.”

The problem is the utility of these connected devices. Instead of getting them to collect data and put it into cold storage (and transfer it on a USB stick to the medical team’s computer), these services can now send information wirelessly, providing data in real time that medical professionals can use to improve treatment. 

For example, the technology is already available to monitor glucose levels in real-time and send warnings to doctors when they get too high (similar to a tricorder from Star Trek). It is also possible to transmit information from pacemakers to computers that can analyze heart output using software. 

The question is how far this technology can go and the benefits it will offer patients. 

“We’re quietly confident,” says Espinosa when referring to the power of medical device technology. “As long as manufacturers and practices get data protection and cybersecurity right, the future looks bright. The power of the new technology will undoubtedly transform lives and could potentially change the way people do medicine. 

So, what themes will we see going forward owing to the proliferation of connected medical technology?

Remote Monitoring

Connected Medical Technology Device

The most interesting aspect of the medical device technology revolution will be the ability to monitor patients remotely. Doctors will have a direct line to their condition and will be able to update their treatment plans accordingly, based on the most recent data. 

“This real-time patient feedback is part of the holy grail of medical device technology,” Espinosa claims, “and it’s what makes it so tantalizing, despite the risks. Doctors could potentially read into the data and make more informed decisions to save lives.” 

Already, you can envision a situation where wearable devices pump information to apps on smartphones and computers. In the future, many devices will hook up to 5G, allowing patients to stay connected with their physicians regardless of where they go.

Remote monitoring may help to: 

  • Prevent complications from various treatments by stopping them early or allowing them to continue for longer
  • Stop acute problems from developing
  • Tell doctors and other medical professionals when they need to arrange follow-up appointments with patients
  • Assess program compliance (such as sticking to a healthy diet)
  • Keep tabs on fitness levels or other vital signs
  • Stopping minor symptoms from developing into something more severe

Improved Care

At the same time, data from devices may also improve care. Information from the body could allow doctors to tailor treatments more to the individual and move towards the long-promised concept of personalized medicine. 

For example, constant monitoring of vital signs and health markers could identify chronic diseases sooner or tell patients which interventions are the most effective. For example, glucose monitors tracking blood sugar levels could tell patients not to eat white bread or potatoes if they spike too much. 

The same tool could also ensure blood sugar levels remain in a healthy band. Falling too low could lead to hypoglycemia while rising too high might damage the kidneys or retina. 

Once doctors have this information, it becomes more straightforward to offer a personalized treatment. Medical professionals can take information from devices, feed it into software, and get a recommendation out from the other end, potentially personalizing medicine for the patients’ various idiosyncrasies. 

The final benefit that’s becoming more relevant is the sheer efficiency of such options. Data from connected devices could figure out whether a particular treatment is working for a patient and either continue it or recommend they stop and find an alternative. 

This last point is particularly helpful when medications have side effects that affect some people more than others. If the drug is interacting with something else in the system and it’s not really having much of an effect on the outcomes that patients and doctors want, then the case for using it is even weaker., 

Patient Empowerment

Connected Medical Technology Device

The last way connected devices might help patients is by providing them with new empowerment over their treatments and medical care. Patients could use connected technology to say what’s working, what isn’t, and what they’d like to see improved. Doctors could then respond to this information and use data to suggest new regimens that might be even better. 

Patient empowerment is already underway in the space and gaining traction. Companies are looking for ways to give individuals more control over who sees their medical records, and what they can do with them.

Blockchain technology, for example, is changing how medical records work in some locations around the world. Doctors must first get permission from patients about what they can extract from their records and how they can use them.

“This extra layer of security is what is needed to make patients more sovereign over their data,” Espinosa explains. “At the moment, they have to trust third parties, but with this level of control, they could determine when data can be accessed and when practitioners should stop using it.”

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