Making Mobile Health Security Possible

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Patrick Oliver Graf

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It’s no secret that healthcare is going mobile.

According to a recent survey of 250 mobile executives from around the world, 78% said they consider the healthcare vertical to have the most to gain from 4G connectivity.

Yet, with the increasing dominance of open platforms, like Android, and the huge diversity of mobile devices, maintaining mobile health security will be an ongoing challenge for healthcare organizations.

This year, a study by Boston Consulting Group and telecommunications company Telenor found that the implementation of mobile health could lower costs of caring for the elderly by 25%, while potentially reducing caretaking costs for the chronically ill by up to 75%, by reducing the amount of in-person medical consultations.

Not only would mobile health significantly lower the number of doctor visits required for care, but it could also ensure an overall more integrated and seamless caregiving process.

For instance, consider smartphone apps that can communicate directly with medical personnel or close family members so that vital signs for chronically ill patients can be monitored—and assistance can be offered—in the event of an emergency.

This would help lighten the burden on caregivers, enabling them to stay connected with patients and be alerted to any health changes. Beyond this, mobile health has tremendous potential to enable doctors to collaborate on care, accelerate the diagnosis process and much more.   

Security Must Be Paramount

Yet, considering how sensitive and valuable medical information is, proper precautions must be taken to secure this data before mobile health can become mainstream.

For instance, if hackers or disloyal employees scan or manipulate health data that is sent via mobile applications, the consequences can range from embarrassment to, frankly, death. It’s easy to understand why ensuring these connections are secure is absolutely critical.

Mobile health, however, requires special VPN functionality. For instance, it requires both extremely high security and flexibility. After all, a healthcare application might use a potentially insecure public Wi-Fi network to communicate with the IT system of a hospital or a medical office. In order to maintain security in such a scenario, the VPN client must be able to automatically adapt to these security settings.

The same requirements apply to smartphones and tablets used by nurses in elderly or outpatient care. Such solutions relay patient information—from homes or hospitals—onto the central database, typically via a VPN connection. And so again, the VPN connection must be able to flexibly adapt to various network connections, given some of amount of unpredictability of the locations.

Also, considering that many healthcare workers are not trained in technology, the VPNs must be easy to use, so convenience is not traded for security.

There’s no doubt mobile health offers innumerable opportunities to lower the cost of healthcare and infinitely improve efficiencies and convenience. The question is, can we ensure that this is done securely?

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