Technology in Nursing Care
September 22nd, 2016 by Attorney John Colvin
In 2015, a security researcher told WIRED Magazine he had exploited a vulnerability in Hospira drug infusion pumps that would allow hackers to remotely access the pumps and control the drug dosage delivered to patients. Hackers would also be able to change the machines’ drug library, so the machines wouldn’t detect fatal doses of medication.
Healthcare technology is rapidly evolving, but sometimes, new devices and systems are debuted before healthcare providers have developed the expertise to use them . . . or the security protocols to protect them from malicious outsiders. In long-term care facilities, a lack of training or oversight regarding technology could create risks for residents.
Long-term care facilities don’t typically have large information technology teams, as hospitals do. So when a hospital that’s presumably well protected against cyberattacks falls victim to hackers, that raises questions about how vulnerable nursing homes could be to such attacks.
In 2015, a security firm discovered that a hacker had accessed a hospital’s blood gas analyzer, and because the machine was networked to other devices and systems, hackers were able to move subversively through hospital controls, computers, and files, including patient data.
Any networked device in a long-term care facility poses a potential security risk. For example, if a worker browsing the internet accidentally visits a malicious website, malware could infiltrate the entire system and capture residents’ financial information and confidential medical data.
Many nursing homes use radio frequency identification tags to monitor residents’ location. RFID tags embedded in residents’ clothing help nursing staff quickly locate residents when it’s time to administer medicine, and staff can track memory-impaired residents to ensure they don’t leave the facility on their own. However, RFID tags, along with surveillance cameras, may make residents feel as if they’re being watched all the time and have no privacy.
Surveillance technology can create a safer environment for residents, and camera footage may be useful in determining the cause of accidents and injuries. But cameras should be visible to residents and positioned in a way that protects their privacy, and only authorized staff should be able to access surveillance footage. If a home uses RFID tags, it should explain to residents the purpose of those tags and how their location information is used.
Nursing homes receive less federal funding for technology than hospitals receive, so even when they can afford to purchase new equipment, it may be incompatible with their outdated operating systems and other devices. And without a dedicated IT team, staff may not know how to correctly use new technology.
Implementation of new technology, along with training and IT security, will become an increasingly important part of providing quality care for nursing home residents. People who are currently accustomed to using computers and mobile devices, and watching streaming video or listening to podcasts, will expect nursing homes to offer those services. New diagnostic technologies and record-keeping systems can help long-term care facilities provide better medical treatment for residents and avoid errors. Funding for these innovations, however, may continue to be a problem.