The Internet of Medical Things (loMT) is currently shaking up the international healthcare industry: according to estimates, the market is set to grow to 129,67 billion GBP in 2022 alone. For patients, the benefits include accurate diagnoses combined with personalised treatment from the comfort of their own homes. At the same time, doctors enjoy greater flexibility from the same staffing level. The only questions are: how secure are the networked devices? And what challenges will hospitals, practices and other facilities be confronted with if they decide to implement a networked infrastructure that links patients, service providers and doctors? This new blog post provides an insight into the benefits but also the hazards of loMT devices.
What does loMT stand for?
The abbreviation loMT stands for the Internet of Medical Things. It represents a subset of the Internet of Things (loT) technology and is focused on healthcare. Specifically, the loMT refers to a networked infrastructure of medical devices, software applications, and healthcare systems and services.
Consequently, loMT devices connect patients, doctors, healthcare providers and medical devices with one another. These devices also include diagnostic equipment and wearable technologies. This is made possible by the use of automation, sensors and machine-based intelligence. The goal is to automate processes in healthcare settings.
In this context, loMT combines three key features:
- The collection and analysis of medical data in real-time
- The transmission of medical data across a secure network to other devices or to a medical database
- The ability to share information and communicate
The Internet of Medical Things is modernising healthcare
The loMT market, however, is not an undefined technology that could modernise health services at some point. It is already a reality and is now changing the lives of millions of people who can now track their health themselves, thanks to loMT devices. The loMT also benefits the treating doctors and healthcare providers by accelerating routine procedures, customising treatment plans and reducing human errors. All of this is possible without the need for patients to be physically present. A forecast by Irdeto, for instance, shows just how attractive the technology has already become. According to this forecast, the loMT market is set to grow to 129,66 billion GBP in 2022 alone. This trend is also confirmed on a long-term basis, as the recently published report by Data Bridge Market Research shows. The consulting firm expects the loMT market to grow at an annual rate of 23% from 2021 to 2028, by which time it is likely to reach 151,58 billion GBP. The prime motivator behind the appeal of the IoMT market is the growing demand for real-time healthcare solutions worldwide.
IoMT technology: the benefits for patients and doctors
- Since loMT devices can communicate with one another and exchange medical data in real-time, they are a major support for doctors. This is because they can track patients' vital signs for longer than is normally possible during a brief consultation at the practice. This enables more accurate diagnoses and personalised treatment, optimising patient care and allowing treatment to commence sooner. At the same time, susceptibility to human error is reduced. The loMT devices can also provide support during treatment by reminding patients to take medication, for example, or by monitoring symptoms.
- Remote medical monitoring is the second benefit resulting from the loMT devices' core features. They record medical data about patients and transmit this to a smartphone, for example, belonging to a doctor. In this way, the doctor, a nurse or even patients can receive continuous information about their health. As a result, personal visits to the doctor are no longer necessary. This promotes flexibility in the daily hospital routine and enables automated monitoring since data can be monitored remotely without the need for nursing staff. This is particularly useful with chronic diseases since changes in the trajectory of a disease become visible.
- Not only that – loMT technology also makes it possible for the healthcare sector to compensate for the shortage of skilled personnel and to cut costs. According to estimates, the proportion of the world population over the age of 65 will have increased from seven per cent today to 15 per cent by the end of 2030. There is also the fact that chronic disorders are diagnosed with ever-increasing frequency and require regular treatment. For health services, this means more patients, higher expenditure and greater need for personnel. The only solution is to use technological procedures and telemedicine to enable the few available personnel to concentrate on important tasks.
- Driven by strong demand for real-time healthcare solutions, the current attractiveness of the IoMT market is also accelerating the transformation of the healthcare sector. However, the prerequisite for this is that the medical technology industry also recognises and harnesses this potential.
The challenges involved in implementing loMT devices
Once a hospital decides to implement loMT systems in its internal network, the first challenges arise. After all, the greatest challenges surrounding loMT devices relate to the aspects of security and data protection. Although medical data is strictly regulated, the volume of sensitive data that is transmitted between patients and service providers is vast – and therefore vulnerable.
Consequently, service providers and organisations involved in healthcare must engage with a broad range of attack types, most of which are aimed at the complex IT infrastructure. After all, it offers a large number of access points and medical devices. If even the smallest vulnerability exists, criminals can access millions of patient records within minutes. The consequences: from threats by individuals to fraudulently obtained medicines, the disclosure of medical records all the way to taking control of patients’ medical devices – cyber criminals rarely shy away from creative methods of fully exploiting any data they seize. As a result, hospitals, practices and healthcare providers lose control of this data, and patients incur professional as well as personal damage.
A widespread phenomenon: IT vulnerabilities in healthcare
The consequences of poorly secured networks are already being seen, as the study ‘Epidemic? The Attack Surface of German Hospitals during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ published by Alpha Strike Labs, Limes Security and the Universität der Bundeswehr in early 2022, shows. According to the study, 36 per cent of German hospitals surveyed had vulnerabilities in their IT systems – the perfect opportunity for cybercriminals to access sensitive data in the loMT infrastructure and create a security risk with national implications. One particularly explosive finding was that many of the hospitals affected by a vulnerability form part of the critical infrastructure, according to information from the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI).
However, the situation among manufacturers is no better. According to a survey by Irdeto, 80 per cent of medical technology companies have fallen victim to a cyberattack in the last five years alone. The numbers clarify one thing above all else: the urgent need to protect patient data with the strictest security measures and avoid all IT security vulnerabilities.
Adhering to security standards with the help of IoMT
The question is now: how can the healthcare sector effectively minimise the vulnerability of IT infrastructures as more and more loMT devices are implemented and the protection of patient data takes priority at the same time? The answer is to use multiple factors that combine to produce a coherent cyber strategy – including privileged access control, multi-factor authentication as well as regular cyber-security training courses to raise awareness among all healthcare professionals.