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Internet-connected pacemakers will provide a "kill switch" in patients' hearts


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(NaturalNews) Could medical devices like pacemakers be accessible from the Internet someday? Actually, that technology is already here.

Remote wireless monitoring of patients via the worldwide web is increasing, according to telematics research engineer Jasone Astorga, of Spain's University of the Basque Country, the only public academic institution in the northern portion of the country. In recent years, new progress has been made in the area of remote monitoring, via means of implanted sensors.

A new Ladon security protocol "offers revolutionary features that make it possible to deploy applications that guarantee the privacy of sensors of this type, in other words, the medical information is only made available in response to legitimate, authorized requests," according to a translated press release from the university.

As Western society ages, there is an increasing need to develop better, more cost-effective solutions to improve quality of life and ease financial burdens placed on government entitlement and social welfare systems, researchers noted. In the West, the use of pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) is growing rapidly, and so, too, must the technology to manage such implanted systems. Remote monitoring is a way to save money while providing better care, say researchers.

Security technology getting better

Implantable pacemakers and ICDs are used to control heart rhythms or initiate an appropriate response to correct a dangerous heart arrhythmia. In addition, such devices record heart activity patterns that can later be analyzed periodically by cardiologists, who can then adjust treatments accordingly.

The data are sent wirelessly to an external device; currently, such data transfers are carried out primarily in hospitals. And while remote monitoring of implantable medical devices offers promise, there are still a number of concerns.

For one, there is the issue of privacy; data transmitted wirelessly has the potential for being hacked and stolen, along with the identity of patients. As noted by the university, however:

The direct connection of medical sensors to the Internet is the next natural step in this evolution, and will enable doctors to obtain the information stored by the sensors at any moment and from any device connected to the Internet. Despite its great potential, the success of a monitoring system of this type is determined, among other things, by the protection of the privacy of the information transmitted.

To address this, researchers at the university have developed the Ladon security protocol, which is a mechanism that requires users to authenticate, authorize and establish end-to-end encryption keys in order to transmit and receive patient data.

Others see more sinister uses for remote monitoring of -- and remote control over -- such medical devices, like assassinations.

And there are technical hurdles to overcome as well, as noted by Astorga, who said battery life is a major concern. But, he said it has been found that "the energy consumption of this Ladon protocol is negligible in comparison with the usual consumption of a pacemaker or ICD when applying its therapy (stimulating or defibrillating), and has no significant impact on how long the batteries last."

First American patient received wireless device years ago

The technology has been years in the making.

In August 2009, Popular Science reported that the first American patient received an Internet-connected pacemaker:

Carol Kasyjanski of New York became the first patient to receive the new pacemaker, which was made by St. Jude Medical Inc. and approved by the FDA in July. The device downloads all its information into a remote monitor in Kasyjanski's home at least once a day and the monitor automatically assesses the performance of both the pacemaker and the patient's heart. Then it uploads the information to a central server.

If anything dangerous is detected during the automatic check, the system then notifies the patient's doctor immediately. If nothing of consequence is discovered, physicians are still able to browse a larger data collection that is uploaded to the server when they choose.

"With instant access to information from a pacemaker, doctors can be more involved with their patients status between visits, and can catch dangerous problems from miles away," PopSci reported.





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