New IIC Testbed Delves Into Medical Device Interoperability

The project supports efforts to establish connectivity between medical devices in order to reduce accidental death or injury due to medical errors.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

All testbed participants are currently in the planning stage of the testbed, but by the third quarter of this year, the companies plan to launch both residential and lab trials. Inside the home, the types of devices that will be linked through the ICE platform will include a fitness monitor, such as a Fitbit, an Internet-connected scale, a blood pressure monitor and a fall-detection system. Within the lab, the equipment will include a pulse oximeter, a heart-rate monitor and other equipment generally used at hospitals.

The testbed's objective is to show that networking these devices, as well as collecting and analyzing data from all of them through a single interface, can make the process by which alarms or other alerts are sent to caretakers more accurate and insightful, thereby reducing medical errors related to their use. Goldman and his colleagues at the MD PnP Lab estimate that the ICE platform and the use of connected medical devices could reduce preventable adverse events (medical errors) by 35 percent. "This could be achieved by using current and new sensors, actuators and algorithms to provide better data access, improved data quality, real-time clinical decision support and enhanced vigilance," he explains.

Brett Murphy
That 35 percent figure is based on the analysis of a number of past reports, including a 2010 study from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, which shows that one of every seven Medicare beneficiaries who is hospitalized is harmed as a result of problems with his or her medical care. However, Goldman notes, this is a preliminary estimate. The potential impact of the ICE platform and the use of connected medical devices, he notes, will not be known until the lab is able to collect more data, which is why experiments such as the IIC testbed are important.

Data security is a major focal point of the testbed, since the MD PnP Lab would need to ensure that connecting medical devices via the Internet would not introduce new pathways for malicious actions that could result in harm or death to patients, let alone compromise patient data privacy.

RTI's middleware is built on the Data Distribution Service (DDS) data-exchange standard that employs a common language to enable distributed systems, used in any industry, to send and receive data messages and commands. "We've modeled security risks," says Brett Murphy, RTI's director of business development, "and did an initial mapping on how they could be handled through the DDS security specification."

In January 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released draft device interoperability guidelines that it wants medical device manufacturers to follow in order to improve the rate of innovation in the medical device industry, while also reducing the costs associated with developing and deploying new devices. The guidelines also include basic safety and security guidelines, upon which Goldman says the MD PnP Lab will build.

Developing robust cybersecurity tools is an obvious requirement, Goldman says, though doing so should not stand in the way of achieving device interoperability. "We can't afford to not leverage [device] interoperability to improve health care, just because we're afraid of cyber threats," he states. While connecting devices on a single platform increases the attack surface, Goldman adds, it also improves visibility and control since, currently, air-gapped devices (those not networked to the Internet or an intranet) could be attacked without medical staffers' knowledge.

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