Securing Healthcare Data in a Connected World

October 11th, 2016 | Posted by Alexa Magdalenski in Capital Cybersecurity Summit | Cybersecurity and Privacy | Guest Blogs | IoT | Member Blog Posts

This week’s blog is written by Connie Pilot, executive vice president and chief information officer at Inova Health System. Pilot will be sharing her expertise on the “The Coming Storm from IoT” panel at the Capital Cybersecurity Summit on November 2-3, 2016

Pilot_Connie UpdatedWith billions of data-generating devices connected to the Web, the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way we do business. No industry is immune, including healthcare. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that 500 million people around the world use some sort of mobile health app on their smartphones and millions more have embraced wearable health technology. Inside the hospital, Internet-connected medical devices such as MRI machines, CT scanners and dialysis pumps provide critical patient monitoring and support and as wireless technology proliferates in healthcare, so too does risk. The Web is fertile ground for stolen medical records, which are now more valuable to hackers than credit cards. Providers must find new ways to secure private data in an ultra-connected world.

The IoT offers important benefits for healthcare delivery and efficiency. It provides new avenues for patient communication, improves patient engagement and compliance, and enhances value-based care and service. At Inova, we use it in many ways: to monitor fragile newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit, control temperature and humidity in the operating room, deliver pain medication post-operatively and measure heart rhythm in cardiac patients, to name just a few. Medical data tracking enables us to intervene when necessary to provide preventive care, promptly diagnose acute disorders or deliver life-saving medical treatment. The benefits extend beyond our hospital walls into the community, where the IoT drives telehealth advancements that improve access for patients, such as virtual visits, eCheck-In, patient portals and electronic health records.

Balancing the benefits of greater connectivity with the need to protect critical data is a growing priority for healthcare providers. Opportunities exist for instilling interoperability and security standards that will seamlessly facilitate the sharing of necessary patient care information, while continuing to safeguard it from cyber-attacks.

Enabling connection and communication among different information technology systems and software applications can be daunting. While healthcare organizations can use proven security protocols in other domains, differences between IoT devices and traditional computing systems pose significant challenges. The IoT introduces innovative technology that requires emergent, often untested, software and hardware. Wearables, such as consumer fitness trackers and smartwatches, are a case in point. They present non-traditional access into the technology environment. While they use existing communication protocols that can be secured, there are challenges with multi-factor authentication and control of the devices in case of loss or theft.

Additionally, with millions of people using wearables, the volume of data generated can easily overwhelm an organization’s network, leaving it vulnerable to a potential denial of service attack. In this scenario, hackers attempt to prevent legitimate users from accessing information or services. Methods must be developed to limit data transmitted from wearables solely to those devices that should be transmitting and solely to information that is required for patient care.

Clearly, developing new methods of securing devices and the information they generate is a formidable task. We are fortunate to do business in an area that is well positioned to tackle this growing cybersecurity threat. With one of the most sophisticated technology workforces in the country, pioneering start-ups, world-class educational resources and a large government infrastructure, the National Capital region stands at the epicenter of innovation, policy and research. Our collective expertise can help us meet healthcare privacy and security challenges, and keep our patients and community safe.


Connie Pilot is executive vice president and chief information officer at Inova Health System. As the leader of Inova’s technology services division, she oversees all aspects of technology, including IT applications, change and quality management, information security, enterprise architecture, service delivery and informatics. 

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