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The Internet of Medical Things in Healthcare

The covid lockdowns and enforced quarantines in the last couple of years resulted in accelerating the global adoption of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). By streamlining the collection, analysis and transmission of health data, the IoMT has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare system. Advancements in IoMT will allow more accurate diagnoses of diseases as well as cheaper and faster healthcare options. In 2020, Fortune Business Insights predicted that by the year 2026, the IoMT will skyrocket to a $176 billion market, which makes IoMT one of the fastest growing IoT subsets.

IoMT applications are enabling more comprehensive healthcare. RPM (Remote Patient Monitoring), IoMT’s most adopted application, is deployed to keep track of patient heart rates, glucose levels and other vitals automated to remote patient monitoring platforms. IoMT improves patient experience and can reduce healthcare costs by eliminating traditional medical appointments and significant wait times. Goldman Sachs estimates annual healthcare cost will be reduced by $300 billion annually through the use of RPM. Various other applications of IoMT includes smart inhalers for asthma patients, mood-aware IoT devices to smart contact lenses and wearable heart rate monitors to robotic surgeries.

There are significant security concerns with regard to IoMT devices and data transmitted in the cloud. IoT architecture prioritizes device connectivity over security, rendering most IoT devices vulnerable to attack. Most IoT devices lack fundamental security features, do not provide logs, and are difficult to apply software and firmware updates. Traditional cyber security solutions cannot scan IoT devices since they do not support endpoint agent installation. Fierce-HealthCare found that 82% of healthcare providers had been targeted in IoT cyberattacks. Inter-connected medical devices pose distinct cybersecurity challenges due to the limited applicability of conventional IT security techniques such as scans and agents in securing these assets.

Security breaches in medical systems can be life threatening. In 2017, a group of attackers controlled the firmware of more than 465,000 pediatric pacemakers, allowing them to drain batteries, steal personal data, and even change critical settings resulting in a recall to protect patient lives. The 2018 Mirai Botnet attacks caused over 1Tbs of data traffic, preventing users from accessing major sites. Cybercriminals can exploit other flaws to get access to equipment and steal sensitive patient information compromising healthcare delivery. In late 2020, the U.S. DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an advisory warning healthcare organizations of major vulnerabilities in Medtronic MyCareLink (MCL) medical devices that could affect patient data.

National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), an ANSI-accredited Standards Developing Organization, and Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA) have established a set of medical device standards. IoMT device manufacturers are now required to configure privacy and security features on a "Manufacturer Disclosure Statement for Medical Device Security (MDS2)" but safeguarding the data (before processing) and information (after processing) are equally critical.

Implementing blockchain to secure IoMT is an innovative and potentially game-changing proposal with decentralized data storage and encryption architecture which ensures robust access control. Blockchain has the potential to increase interoperability of the IoMT deploying overlaid P2P networks.

IoMT is precipitating a major HealthCare industry transformation as it becomes smarter, compact, with advanced sensors will achieve higher levels of precision and empowered by AI. IoMT devices can generate data for Machine Learning Systems that can detect blood infections, heart problems, and potentially cancer. IBM’s WATSON, an AI-powered supercomputer properly diagnosed a rare form of leukemia in a patient in 10 minutes by analyzing millions of oncology reports and cross-referencing them with the patient's genetic data, a process that could take weeks for clinicians.

As more medical devices are built on AI, cyber-security threats will increase proportionally. Manufacturers must prioritize emphasis on secure architectures and operators must maintain rigorous protection controls.

Muhammad Arqam Qayyum

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