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Q&A: How AI is heralding a new smart medical device revolution

One of the biggest issues is device security, making sure the device is protected by design so that it can’t be hacked, pirated in any way.

Coin-size Bluetooth tracking devices such as Apple AirTag designed to help people find lost items have been used by stalkers to secretly map locations of unsuspecting victims
Coin-size Bluetooth tracking devices such as Apple AirTag designed to help people find lost items have been used by stalkers to secretly map locations of unsuspecting victims - Copyright AFP Arif ALI
Coin-size Bluetooth tracking devices such as Apple AirTag designed to help people find lost items have been used by stalkers to secretly map locations of unsuspecting victims - Copyright AFP Arif ALI

Smart medical devices (such as monitors, sensors, medication administrators) in hospitals are expected to exceed 7 million by 2026. These devices are becoming increasing complex and they form part of the Internet of Medical Things.

In terms of how this sector will evolve, Digi International’s Bob Blumenscheid (Senior Product Marketing Manager) discusses with Digital Journal the risks and challenges that must be addressed for these (IoMT) devices to work safely and efficiently.

Blumenscheid has over three decades of experience in technology fields. His roles have included sales engineering and sales management as well as product marketing and business development. In his second stint at Digi, Blumenscheid plays a key role in driving product marketing for Digi embedded products.

Digital Journal: What are smart medical devices?

Bob Blumenscheid: Smart medical devices or Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices are connected and able to communicate wirelessly or through ethernet. Examples include monitors, sensors and medication administrators, all capable of collecting and transmitting patient data as well as the condition of the device itself and what it’s doing at any given time.

DJ: How are such devices set to revolutionize medicine?

Blumenscheid: These devices transmit critical data and track patient conditions in real time. This provides physicians with more actionable information they can use to diagnose and maintain patient health on a scale never seen before. They also provide the ability to provide better remote care, reducing expensive hospital stays.

DJ: What products are Digi International working on?

Blumenscheid: We often work on IoMT devices like infusion pumps, automated external defibrillators and portable ventilator devices, particularly those that need to operate partially on battery power, so they can travel with a patient while they’re being transported either down the hall, or in an ambulance or helicopter bringing them to the hospital. Our ConnectCore™ system-on-modules (SOMs) provide a mix of processing power and wireless connectivity, including the latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. We also provide unprecedented security for these connections.

DJ: What are the main technological challenges you face?

Blumenscheid: One of the biggest issues is device security, making sure the device is protected by design so that it can’t be hacked, pirated or in any way used to manipulate patient data, or become a gateway for malicious actors to access a hospital or health facility’s entire network. This is a two-pronged issue. The device must be designed with security features from the beginning to avoid any penetration, and then security must be maintained over time. Continuous, vigilant security services are needed to analyze new threats that come up after the introduction of the device. That’s why we offer services that enable customers to know what the new threats are and how they can safeguard against them.

DJ: What are the security concerns you are addressing?

Blumenscheid:The main concern is to make sure the device is protected against hack attempts. This includes firmware authentication, encryption, protected hardware ports and authentication of people using the device, but you’re walking a fine line. As you integrate more security features, you also create more complexity in the device. You don’t want to make the device too complicated, which could cause usability issues and lead to problems within the medical facility.

DJ: How are privacy concerns being addressed?

Blumenscheid: What’s most important is to keep patient data coming from a smart medical device fully encrypted all the way back to the different applications that are using the information. So, if you’re transmitting any kind of patient data, you must ensure the devices you’re using are adequately equipped to meet the latest encryption standards. These standards and other privacy requirements are dictated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States, and then by other entities throughout the rest of the world.

DJ: What are your views on regulation? Is it necessary for the sector?

Blumenscheid: Absolutely. It’s a good thing that we’re starting to look at the security risks in smart medical devices and are finding ways to correct them. Regulation ensures device manufacturers and health organizations play their part in accomplishing this. For example, it’s now required to remove patient data from a device before it’s disposed of. And we expect the regulations governing the use of IoMT devices to spread throughout the larger Internet of Things (IoT) space, including industrial and smart home environments.

DJ: What is the future for IoT devices?

Blumenscheid: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the future. We’ll see smart medical device manufacturers implement more AI and ML. At the device level, it’s predictive maintenance to ensure device health, using the technology to monitor conditions but also threat levels on the security side, etc. And then, the next level is to start using AI and ML for diagnostic techniques and enhanced performance of the devices or the way we interact with them, for example, through natural language and spoken voice. It’ll be exciting to see where this takes us.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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