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The Healthcare Sector Has A Cybersecurity Problem: Here’s Why You Should Care

The global digital health market is on the rise. Digital healthcare is the future, and increasingly the present, of how patients are diagnosed and treated. With the shift in healthcare, DTC marketers are presented with a new challenge: understanding how patient needs change as new technologies enter the market.

It’s no longer enough to talk simply about the promises of new technologies. Now it’s time to take a hard look at how digital healthcare impacts the patients and consequently, how new needs and expectations are formed. Cybersecurity, or lack thereof, is becoming a major factor in this equation.

Concerns Around the Internet of Medical Things

You probably already know that the Internet of Medical Things has a huge potential for medicine. Elderly patients’ health can be remotely monitored by care-givers, extending the period of independence. Medicine can be automatically administered, ensuring the right dosage at the right time. Reports can be composed and sent to an app on the patient’s phone, giving them greater agency over their own health. Emergency alerts can be sent directly to hospitals if the patient’s health rapidly deteriorates.

In short: countless lives can be saved or made easier thanks to the Internet of Medical Things.

But that doesn’t mean that the technology behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is flawless. In fact, security experts have been raising concerns about IoT since its very inception. And while having a smart light switch or smart TV hacked shouldn’t have any effect on users’ health, a hacked medical device is a whole other story.

To give you an idea of how disastrous things could turn out, security researchers discovered security flaws in the Medtronic implantable insulin pump that allowed them to remotely disable it, cutting off the delivery of medication. The same researchers demonstrated also taking total control of a pacemaker system.

The message from this and many other experiments was clear: if insufficiently protected, IoT medical devices could be a danger to patients’ lives.

Cybersecurity and Telehealth

Telehealth is yet another field of digital healthcare that carries a great promise. Telehealth entails providing remote care through means of telecommunication which increasingly means the Internet. Its great advantage is that it minimizes the need for in-person visits to the doctor’s office: particularly important for elderly patients or those with mobility issues.

Giving the popularity of smartphones and laptops, most households are equipped for telehealth. As the infrastructure develops, we’re likely to see many patients schedule doctor visits online and consult specialists remotely via a video chat.

But telehealth faces the exact same criticism as the Internet of Medical Devices. Most Internet users are don’t have the technical expertise necessary to protect their devices from access by unauthorized parties. Once those devices are being used to transmit such sensitive information as medical test results, doctor consultations and other health data, the question of cybersecurity becomes ever more pressing.

Should this Matter to DTC Marketers?

Before I answer this question, let’s consider another one. Does cybersecurity matter to the end-users of these technologies — patients?

The answer is a resounding yes. According to research, Americans care about their data privacy and security (85% of respondents are extremely, very or somewhat concerned about their smart devices monitoring their personal habits). And not just that, many users will take active steps to protect their privacy as well.

With surveillance and hacking scandals breaking out seemingly every week, this security awareness will only grow. It’s enough to take a look at Millennials’ laptops: many will have their video cameras taped over, GPS location disabled, and a VPN running in the background as they surf the Internet.

To come back to the question in the heading: DTC marketers need to care about cybersecurity because that’s what patients care about. Security features are slowly moving into the spotlight — when making an important decision about their health, patients will be weighting security as one of the factors. Understanding and being able to answer questions about cybersecurity will soon become a part of DTC marketer’s stack.

Moving Forward

Digital healthcare transformation is picking up speed and so will the controversies associated with it.

To be fully prepared for the future of healthcare, we need to look critically at what this new field is shaping up to be. With patients increasingly concerned about their privacy and security, it seems that security features will be a strong selling point for any new technologies entering the health sector.

Brad Smith
Brad wears a tinfoil hat and thinks we’re at the dawn of an Orwellian nightmare. At TurnOnVPN, he writes about his dream for a free internet and in his free time, unravels the horror behind big techs on tech blogs.
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