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Situation Critical: FDA Warns of Hacking Threats to Remote Medical Devices


As a care provider, you’re likely all too familiar with the idea of telehealth and the Internet of Things. You can use digital devices to remotely connect with patients, like wireless pacemakers and other tools, to monitor their health from a distance. However, as the FDA warns, some of these wireless devices could be susceptible to digital hackers.

Hackers and third-party organizations could remotely take control of these devices, which could lead them to fail unexpectedly, endangering the lives of your patients. If you or some of your patients use this kind of technology, find out more about this alarming issue and what you can do to safeguard your healthcare equipment from digital hackers.

An Ominous Warning from the FDA

The FDA is sounding the alarm over what it considers a major cybersecurity threat. Recently, the federal agency found 11 cybersecurity holes in operating systems that run a third-party software known as IPnet. This software is used on countless healthcare computers and medical devices. It passes important healthcare information from one device to another for seamless communication, but the FDA warns hackers could be using IPnet for nefarious purposes.

According to agency officials, hackers may use the system to:

  • change the function of the device
  • cause a denial of service
  • leak sensitive patient information or logical flaws
  • prevent a device from working at all
  • or find back doors into the entire hospital system

When it comes to digital healthcare technology, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If hackers were to take control of a patient’s pacemaker, rendering it ineffective, the results could be fatal. If your practice uses the IPnet software, spend some time looking for any vulnerabilities in your system. Reach out to your patients to make sure their devices are working properly.

Possible targets include:

  • Pacemakers
  • Drug infusion pumps
  • MRI systems
  • Hospital networks
  • Heart rate monitors
  • And any other wireless healthcare device

The FDA is also warning patients and providers that such threats may be difficult to detect. Many wireless healthcare devices may interpret these hacks as normal network communications, which means providers and administrators may not necessarily receive a warning that anything is wrong. This could lead to major cybersecurity vulnerabilities across some of the largest hospital systems in the country.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Patients

The medical community has been embracing digital equipment with open arms as of late. Many providers and systems depend on these devices every day. As a care provider, you need to do everything you can to protect your practice and patients from cyber-attacks. Based on recommendations from the FDA, here are some of the ways to safeguard your equipment:

  • Tell Your Patients to Stay Vigilant

Make sure your patients understand the severity of the threat. Tell them to stay vigilant and watch out for any irregularities when using these devices at home or on the go. If they believe their device isn’t working properly or may have been hacked, they need to seek immediate medical attention.

  • Set Up Patient Training Sessions

Bring some of your patients together to teach them how to use these devices. Go over safety information and backup protocols, so they feel more comfortable using this equipment. This gives your patients more chances to ask questions as they learn about this technology. The more familiar they are with their devices, the better they’ll be able to detect when something isn’t right with them.

  • Update Your Firmware as Soon as Possible

Make sure you, your colleagues, and your patients update your security software and firmware as soon as new updates become available. Keep up with the latest cybersecurity tips and trends and pass them along to your patients and colleagues.

  • Initiate Response Protocols

As you and your colleagues continue handing out wireless devices to your patients, create a contingency plan in case of device failure. Your patients and colleagues should know exactly what to do in case of an emergency. Hand out reminders and safety information to your patients, so they can refer to these protocols if their devices fail.

  • Work with Device Manufacturers

The FDA is encouraging administrators and care providers to work with device manufacturers. Share your experiences, concerns, and opinions with the device manufacturer to learn more about how these devices work and how they can be improved. Manufacturers need feedback from their customers and clients in order to mitigate these risks and improve service and reliability.

These kinds of wireless devices aren’t going away anytime soon. They’ve become a fundamental part of the modern healthcare industry. However, using them to remotely monitor your patients comes with its fair share of risks. Keep this information in mind to protect your practice and patients. We can all work together to improve the safety of this equipment.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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