Why healthcare IoT needs better oversight

Radiology Consultant at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dr. Navin Ramachandran, discusses how healthcare IoT needs better oversight

Dr. Ramachandran is a keen learner, working towards IT-based research and computer science to establish the role of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices in healthcare, together with IOTA, a distributed ledger technology (DLT) that enables secure data exchange.

Throughout his 17-year-old career as a Doctor (currently a Consultant Interventional Radiologist), he has seen a lot of change in the healthcare industry because of technological advancements.

“We used to use paper documents to record patient information. This was really easy to use as everyone is familiar with pen and paper, but it was not easy to share with other colleagues. Now we use electronic documents that can be shared easily, but at the same, they are much easier to tamper with,” said Dr. Ramachandran.

‘Healthcare systems need to be patient-centric’

“The aim of my work is to help build systems that do not allow tampering, but maximise usability – because usability is the key to adoption. Healthcare systems also need to be more patient-centric, rather than the current institution-centric models, to give citizens more agency over their data.”

The MyData movement has emerged due to concerns over the data economy which has taken shape over the last few years, according to Dr. Ramachandran.

He added: “In the healthcare context, or indeed a general societal context, there are concerns that the increasing amount of data generated by personal devices allows some companies to track everything we do. And if that is true, then I am not sure that is a society I want to be a part of. This is why the basis of my work is to return control of the data back to the citizen and to ensure it is not tampered with.

Who’s monitoring our devices?

“We should be aware of who is monitoring our devices, and what this data is used for. The more we speak to Amazon’s Alexa, for example, the more personal data is stored and perhaps used for secondary purposes. This is true for any manufacturer, not just Amazon.

“Data from devices may give clues towards your health and mental state – eg early morning waking (and consequent engagement with our devices) may be a sign of the recurrence of depression. Furthermore, we often do not get access to the data that is collected about us – for example, we may only be able to access trends in activity/statistics rather than the raw data, which limits how we can further share and analyse the data.

“A secure healthcare device would, of course, need to be medical grade (in that the sensors are accurate and validated for medical use), with a secure end-to-end network. However IoT device security is not always optimal, as recognised by a report by the UK government, and the FDA also warned of issues with medical devices. The whole security lifecycle must be considered, including critical software updates via secure channels. This is one of the use cases for IOTA that we are exploring.” 

Nevertheless, NHS Highland’s Caithness General Hospital is investigating IoT technology to monitor medical beds. Ramachandran believes Scotland’s hospital bed initiative is a good idea for hospital efficiency, although it can affect patient privacy if the patient feels that Big Brother is watching them throughout their stay.

Written by Leah Alger