“I think you are on mute” is becoming all too familiar, as more people use virtual conferencing platforms not only to work, but also to check-in with family and friends during these times of social distancing. The need to minimize unnecessary exposure during this pandemic is creating more demand for teleconferencing services and telemedicine. Once an emerging niche industry struggling to gain acceptance among providers and patients and trying hard to protect patient privacy, telemedicine is now expected to quickly become mainstream. In this blog we explore how the current situation is testing telemedicine’s ability to deliver safe and secure routine medical care.

Telemedicine adoption

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, telemedicine is experiencing a dramatic increase in demand, and the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic has put tremendous strain on available resources. As front-line healthcare workers address the pandemic, optimizing healthcare resources has become critical, because healthcare professionals must also deliver routine care to patients with new and existing conditions unrelated to the novel coronavirus.

In an April 30 post, Roll Call reported:

Since the public health emergency and the relaxation of rules, the use of telehealth services has exploded across the country, according to the American Telemedicine Association, which represents hospitals, technology companies and others. The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, has seen a 5,000 percent increase in virtual visits in the past few weeks, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center also has seen telehealth encounters increase from approximately 200 in early March to more than 7,500 in early April, a roughly 35-fold increase in just over 30 days.

Telemedicine, along with remote monitoring and diagnostic capabilities, enable the delivery of routine care, particularly during times when face-to-face appointments are not always possible or deemed essential. Being able to deliver these digitally intense services safely and securely is now more important than ever before.

Internet of things (IoT) security

Telemedicine and the deployment of connected/IoT medical devices, such as glucose and asthma monitors, ingestible sensors, and many others, enable doctors to deliver care remotely. But the safety and security of this delivery method depends on the privacy and integrity of data collected from patients, readings obtained from deployed medical devices, and the integrity of the frequently updated software they run. More sophisticated devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps must also ensure the integrity of the instructions they may receive from a doctor adjusting treatment and doses.

Before the pandemic, Forbes predicted that approximately 161 million connected medical devices would be deployed in hospitals, clinics, and medical offices by 2020. However, as the data flowing from these devices and the digitization of medical records and services increases, so, too, do cybersecurity threats. Not only is privacy a concern, but integrity is key to patient safety and trust.

Way forward

Getting your doctor to come off mute is not a problem, but having your personal data compromised, or a critical reading or dosage altered, can have dire consequences. If not properly secured, protected health information could fall into potentially malicious hands and medical devices could be made to malfunction.

Technology can help healthcare practitioners deliver routine care, when people can’t or don’t want to visit a doctors’ office. As telemedicine gains greater acceptance, patients and healthcare providers will undoubtedly demand more from these applications. Healthcare IoT will play a significant role in delivering the expanded capabilities to allow doctors and nurses to perform routine examinations remotely. And it will enable them to have confidence that they are examining the patient just as accurately as they would if the patient were physically present at their offices. But to achieve this, the building blocks of cybersecurity — confidentiality, integrity, and availability – must be integral to the telemedicine platforms that medical providers use now and in the next generation services that are sure to be developed for this growing market.

To learn more, register for our joint panel discussion with Device Authority “Meeting Demand for Telemedicine with Secure IoT Solutions” on June 3 at 8am PDT / 11am EDT / 4pm BST.