Hospitals Should Use the Internet of Things – But Very Carefully

November 14, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

internet_of_thingsLast week, Energy Manager Today posted a blog about the special challenges and responsibilities of managing energy in hospitals and other health care-related facilities. There were three high level conclusions: Healthcare facilities are under great pressure to provide power reliably because lives are at stake; hospitals have perhaps the greatest range of energy responsibilities of any type of facility and there are great opportunities to drive energy efficiency and cut costs.

After posting, Blue Pillar submitted commentary on the issue of energy in healthcare settings. One point made in emailed responses to questions from Energy Manager Today that were attributed to CEO Tom Willie is that there should be significant changes in assessing system performance.

Current approaches are antiquated. “Today, testing of these systems is mostly a manual process where results are captured offline on clipboards and binders,” the statement said. “The effort exhausts many man-hours every month and increases the likelihood of mistakes. Energy managers should work with their compliance and facilities teams to determine the benefits of moving toward new technology platforms that are purpose-built to automate compliance testing.”

The ability to monitor on a 24/7 basis and share alerts and other pertinent information via tablets, smartphones and other modern devices is especially important as the gradually becomes less reliable due to its age and increases in severe weather events.

The point is that hospitals are leading indicators of change. Part of this change – which not surprisingly was mentioned by Blue Pillar, which seeks to harness the Internet of Things (IoT) for energy uses – is the gradual growth on reliance on new technologies for fulfillment as well as testing. “The future of hospital energy management will be predicated on the availability of real-time energy data provided through secure, vendor-agnostic IoT platforms that unlock knowledge of all ‘Energy Things’ from backup power to onsite, distributed energy resources (DERs),” the comments said. “With purpose-built energy IoT platforms, energy managers can act upon real-time data to lower energy costs, avoid power outages and become more sustainable.  Today, IoT platforms are evolving and expanding rapidly, and healthcare systems are often earlier adopters. For hospitals, giving energy managers access to data is a crucial step toward enhancing greater energy reliability and the standard of patient care.”

The pervasiveness of this emerging mesh of connectivity is an issue – and a concern — in and of itself. The IoT increasingly is being positioned as a linchpin for a very wide uses. Beyond energy, IoT sensors will track hospital operations – where equipment is, how well it is functioning, etc. – and even have a hand in care. IoT sensors will help monitor patients. (In this way, it indirectly will have a deep hand in energy savings by enabling a higher percentage of people to be discharged and monitored and administered from home, where they won’t use the hospital’s energy).

There is a very ominous note within the obvious promise of the IoT. Hospitals must take great care secure these networks. This is no potential future threat: It is a threat today. During the past couple of months, malware (dubbed “Mirai”) has launched vicious attacks against the Internet, including one that caused severe Internet problems on October 21.

These were distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. The first step in creating such attacks is comprising the connected computer equipment that is in use. Once this is done, thousands or even millions of infected devices are formed into “botnets.” The botnets are ordered to send requests to the servers that the bad guys are targeting. Unless very sophisticated and robust security is in place, the targeted servers soon buckle and become unresponsive.

In the case Mirai, the botnets were comprised of connected consumer IoT devices such as surveillance cameras and home automation systems. It’s an inviting target for hackers because these devices generally are poorly secured and owners often don’t take the basic step of changing the default password.

For this reason, any healthcare facility considering using the IoT – and most will due to its potential advantages – must build in security from the ground up. Putting security at the core of the IoT strategy is a must. The IoT clearly and be a big part of healthcare energy management, but it must be implemented in an extremely secure manner.

One comment on “Hospitals Should Use the Internet of Things – But Very Carefully

  1. I can’t even send an email to my local hospital they’re so paranoid. Still on Fax.

    I can’t imagine what “careful” means in this context, when even data security experts are boggled by the vulnerabilities of most IoT hardware.

    An exploration of that would be an interesting future column.

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