How Remoteness is Making Us More Connected

chris_aultBy Chris Ault

The advent of the connected health industry and the technological advances seen in the mobile Health (mHealth) space has created a new model of delivery for healthcare services. This model reduces the reliance on the brick and mortar practice of having patients visit a hospital or doctor’s office to receive consultation and treatment. The delivery of healthcare services, once bound by geography and the development of new technology, is now bound only by the limits of ingenuity.

Teleophthalmology, a subset of telemedicine, is the application of technology that ophthalmologists use to assess disorders of the eye through ophthalmic imaging. Photographic assessment of the eye allows for the identification of eye-related issues such as glaucoma, ophthalmic imaging can also help detect hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The availability and affordability of handheld imaging products allows ocular imaging to be done in the home. With the assistance of a registered nurse, a patient can have an image of their eye captured, have the results sent to their doctor, and receive consultation through a video service. For a person living in a rural Anytown, USA setting, where meeting with a specialist requires a drive of several hours, the convenience offered by mobile and home-based healthcare devices is immense.

The example of ophthalmic imaging is just one of many healthcare functions that have seen a fundamental change. The reach of healthcare is broadening. The prevalence of patient-worn sensors creates a new medium to communicate data with mobile and home-based hubs. The availability of mobile medical devices has created a small, low-cost accompaniment to larger-scale medical devices. But perhaps the most significant development is the increased capability of mHealth devices.

We have seen the evolution of medical devices transition from merely giving numerical data to providing diagnostic information. Once you have diagnostic-level information, medical questions begin to get answered. The identification of symptoms diseases and disorders can be made and from there treatment can be started.

In addition a growing number of critical operations are being entrusted to mobile devices. From a technological perspective this is exciting. From a security perspective this is terrifying. To offset the dangers of allowing the technology to become bleeding edge, several key security components must be considered.

Fundamentally it begins at the operating system (OS) used in the device. Advanced security mechanisms built directly into the OS can protect the device from malicious attacks. An attack on an OS can cause the leaking of usernames, passwords, emails, instant messages, and files of highly sensitive patient data. On the opposite end of the spectrum a secure network is paramount for the handling, transfer, and storage of personal patient data.  A recent story about 4.5 million patient data files stolen from across 200 hospitals in the US underscores the importance of having a secure health network behind the OS.

The mHealth and connected healthcare service delivery model offers numerous advantages for healthcare practitioners and patients alike. The flexibility to assess and consult on an on-demand model gives healthcare practitioners an alternative to interacting with patients during typical doctor’s office hours. For patients the clinic has begun to move into the home. They can measure their own vitals and share the findings with their doctor or specialist remotely.

Chris Ault is the senior product manager responsible for QNX Software Systems’ medical software portfolio, including an OS compliant with the IEC 62304 standard. Recognized for his software expertise, Chris has written articles for Electronic Design, Embedded Intel Solutions, and Design & Elektronik and presented at events such as the Medical Devices Summit, Embedded World, and the Embedded Systems Conference.

Chris holds degrees in computer science, electronics, and economics from Algonquin College and Carleton University.

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