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Digital health users need to be mindful of security risk

By Tim Sandle     Jul 29, 2017 in Health
The transition of more and more health information into a digital format can lead to many benefits, especially in terms of the speed of analysis. It can also present risks, in terms of cybersecurity. Risks are highlighted in a new report.
Researchers, practitioners and consumers alike are increasingly embracing mobile technology, cloud computing, broadband access, and wearable devices-effectively removing the traditional perimeter defenses around sensitive data. This brings opportunities and threats.
Digital health offers more direct access to medics, such as through telemedicine; the ability to track patient progress in real time through connected devices (such as smart inhalers); apps that can created personalized exercise regimes; and with the ability for medics to share information around the world. With digital fitness devices, for instance, this type of technology already owned by 1 in 10 U.S. citizens. The scope of application includes monitoring activity levels, medication use, weight, sleep patterns, rehabilitation progress, and other personal health data.
Cybersecurity experts say that global malware attacks are on the rise.
Cybersecurity experts say that global malware attacks are on the rise.
There are plenty of other examples; what each of these aspects of digital health have in common is security risks. These risks are not always being fully acknowledged by digital health providers, according to a new study from Karlstad University.
Information security and protection of privacy are key factors in the development of digital health solutions. If these are neglected, there is a real risk that individuals can come to harm in healthcare situations. This has been noted by Dr. Leonardo Iwaya, who specializes in computer science at Karlstad University. Risks stem from several sources: opportunity, increased motivation, and a lack of understanding by the health care community in the use of technology.
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The researcher has been exploring ways of securing information and protecting privacy when using mobile applications in healthcare specifically. In a research note, Iwaya explains: "Mobile apps are for example used in developing countries to increase the coverage and the access to public healthcare.”
Activists say new cybercrime laws in Pakistan will allow the government to conduct mass surveillance...
Activists say new cybercrime laws in Pakistan will allow the government to conduct mass surveillance and criminalise satire
Thomas Samson, AFP/File
He adds: “But many projects fail because issues related to data security and privacy cannot be successfully integrated in the systems."
Looking at the state of play in Brazil, the researcher notes that mobile health tools are being used by community health workers to help to improve patients' treatment in poor and rural areas. This includes the sending of patient information via on-line resources. The aim is well-intended and it can strengthen the link between the rural society and the centralized public health system.
As an example, smartphones are used to streamline information gathered during a medical visit and later by medics to analyze the impact of the conditions in the specific areas on people's health. This wider analysis allows health prevention work to be undertaken.
READ MORE: How the Internet of Things will shape healthcare
However, this brings with it security issues and many devices do not contain appropriate protective measures, the report finds. This can lead to medical data being stolen. For example, in the U.K. The Daily Telegraph reported that that the security of up to 26 million patients’ medical records could at risk because of a sharing function called SystmOne, which potentially allowed patient records to be viewed by “thousands of strangers”.
More about digital health, Digital, Cybersecurity, Cyberattack