Remote medical equipment and services have been gaining traction in the healthcare industry long before the emergence of COVID-19. The pandemic has led to increased interest and speedier adoption of remote and virtual healthcare options.
Virtual consultations are just one application of remote medical devices and services. In many cases, dedicated mobile medical equipment is deployed to monitor a patient’s condition and perform other healthcare-related functions. These types of solutions require remote support for medical devices.
How remote support is implemented
This article looks at how remote medical equipment support is performed and some of the challenges associated with maintaining device security.
Remote support for stationary medical devices and equipment
Stationary medical devices are found in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and homes. These devices might be traditional monitoring equipment that requires manual intervention to read results and take required actions. They also include devices like respirators and other apparatus found in hospital rooms that require continuous and error-free operation to keep patients alive.
In recent years, smart medical devices have been introduced that use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to assist in delivering healthcare. Smart medical devices can act autonomously to make decisions related to patient care. Connecting these devices to computer networks has resulted in what is known as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). The combination of intelligent endpoints communicating with advanced software applications allows for the use of innovative techniques to provide enhanced patient care.
Support for wearable mobile medical devices
Miniaturization has enabled the development and manufacture of wearable mobile medical devices. A method of healthcare delivery taking advantage of these devices is remote patient monitoring (RPM). Devices like smart glucose monitors can interact with patients and healthcare systems to maintain proper levels while also providing historical data for trend analysis.
RPM services provide a continuous stream of real-time data to healthcare applications and analytical software platforms. Patients can receive individually-tailored care that is impossible to replicate using traditional healthcare techniques. Immediate action can be taken to avoid emergencies and alert patients and providers of abnormal conditions.
Wearable medical equipment support is a growing market as healthcare providers take advantage of new technology in an attempt to limit costs and improve patient outcomes. A vital component in providing support is the software used when connecting to remote medical devices.
Software for remote support of medical devices
The diversity of medical devices tech support teams are expected to interact with poses challenges when developing software apps for remotely accessing and controlling the equipment. A one-size-fits-all approach will not effectively handle the different equipment used to provide telehealth solutions.
Technical teams need to deploy software that can establish secure access and provide remote support for medical devices from a variety of platforms. The emphasis on security when dealing with personal health information makes it imperative to encrypt data for storage and transmission. Data breaches involving personal health information can result in substantial fines to the offending organizations.
A combination of remote desktop software, mobile access solutions, and applications designed for IoMT devices are necessary for IT departments in healthcare organizations. When selecting remote control software products, preference needs to be given to applications that implement strong encryption and use methods like multi-factor authentication for secure connectivity.
Benefits of remote support for medical devices
Traditional types of healthcare-related equipment and smart devices both benefit from remote support for medical devices. The basic infrastructure required to support medical equipment remotely is comprised of multiple devices connected to a centralized platform via private or public networks. When issues occur with remotely located medical devices, tech support personnel are notified and can either physically visit the equipment or access it remotely to diagnose and resolve the problems.
The ability to support medical equipment remotely benefits patients, providers, and tech support teams. The increased speed of problem resolution optimizes healthcare delivery and increases patient satisfaction. Software updates and patches can be applied remotely to ensure that all remote medical devices are performing optimally.
Technicians can access devices located in a hospital room or patient’s home and immediately resolve problems without the time or expense of physically visiting the location. Support teams can be smaller and more productive when travel to equipment installations is eliminated. There will be instances where a device needs servicing that cannot be performed remotely, but the majority of support can be handled remotely.
Risks and concerns of remote support for medical devices
Security needs to be effectively addressed when providing remote support for medical equipment. Teams working with medical devices face the same types of security concerns that plague any type of infrastructure that allows remote access. These concerns are exacerbated by the critical and potentially life-threatening impact of hacked or compromised medical equipment.
Providing remote medical device tech support faces two main security threats that are equally important in safeguarding patient health and data.
Access security to medical equipment
Controlling access to remote medical devices is critical for maintaining security. Only authorized personnel should have the ability to monitor and control network-connected medical devices. Steps need to be taken to ensure secure access to medical devices that include:
- • Changing default passwords on medical devices;
- • Implementing multi-factor authentication when remotely logging in to medical equipment;
- • Logging all access attempts to monitor usage and identify potential hacking attempts;
- • Restricting remote access by employees not directly involved in remote support for medical devices.
Communication security of telemedicine devices
An equally important consideration is the security of the communication between the remote medical devices, their host platforms, and support teams. Measures to protect communication security when providing remote support for medical equipment include:
- • Using robust and reliable communication protocols;
- • Employing secure remote support connectivity software;
- • Encrypting all data before it is transmitted.
The ability of healthcare professionals to monitor patient conditions and interact remotely is beneficial to providers, patients, and society. As the technology of the IoMT continues to mature and new healthcare delivery methods are introduced, it will become increasingly important to provide remote support for medical devices.
Teams that remotely support medical equipment need to be comfortable using a variety of methods to access the connected devices. Connecting to stationary equipment in hospital rooms commonly involves gaining entry into the facility’s private network with traditional remote support software. In other cases, connecting to wearable medical equipment might need to be done with mobile applications installed on a technician’s smartphone.
Providing remote support for medical devices promises to be an important role for technical teams at healthcare facilities. The benefits of telemedicine solutions depend on the ability of support teams to efficiently address issues remotely.
- • A sensor;
- • An aggregator to transform collected data into information;
- • A communication channel;
- • An external utility to process data transmission;
- • A decision trigger.