Arming patients in an era of cyber attacks – using your mobile device to keep your data safe and under your control
May 16, 2017
By Dr. Bettina Experton

On Friday, May 12, a worldwide ransomware cyber attack disabled government and corporate computer systems around the world, including the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K. Forty British hospitals were literally locked out of their systems and the hackers demanded a ransom in order to give them access to patients’ records. In addition to requiring the rescheduling of countless surgeries and delaying hospital admissions, this state of affairs endangered patient lives.

Without details on patient history, medications, or other critical health data points, hospital staff were at times working with incomplete information and making judgment calls on treatment options without all relevant information. This left patients potentially vulnerable to medical mistakes, adverse drug reactions, and delayed treatment. In the U.S., medical errors are now the third leading cause of death, with the National Academy of Medicine citing mobile health technology that allows patients to access and review their health records to look for errors and share their records at the point of care as a cure for this epidemic.

In fact, the NHS has been focused on delivering new technologies to patients, to modernize the health system and empower patients to take control over their health. Last year, Humetrix technologies were recognized as innovative patient care solutions as part of the NHS England Innovation Test Beds program. As part of the program, Humetrix has developed SOS UK, a custom version of our SOS QR emergency mobile platform that allows anyone to carry securely on their own mobile device, key medical history information, so that emergency responders, hospital personnel and others who might provide treatment in an emergency or for routine care have critical information when they make treatment decisions. Mobile technologies like SOS UK and iBlueButton, which allow anyone to aggregate, assemble, annotate and share their medical records and carry them securely on their own mobile device, are becoming critical citizen-patient safety tools in this era of cyber attacks. When your data is securely stored on your own device, access to that critical information is not dependent on accessing a cloud-based system, which might be locked by ransomware, simply inconvenient to use in the short interactions we typically have during a physician encounter, or when there is no Internet access as might be the case in an Emergency Department.

In the U.S., these mobile health technologies may also serve the critical function of providing interoperability today – so patients can assemble their own health records from multiple sources, and be the connecting agent between disparate health sites and electronic medical record systems. Business and competitive concerns have made it quite difficult for healthcare providers to share information with each other. Consumer-directed health information exchange – which puts the patient in control of accessing and sharing his or her own data – is the best way to address this persistent problem.

On June 9, the ONC will host the Direct Exchange Workshop in Washington, DC, to continue to drive interoperability forward. A key component of any strategy will be empowering the citizen-patient with technology tools that make interoperability a reality. The technology is in place today to give consumers and caregivers the tools they need to store, annotate, and share their health data. The time has come – in an era of healthcare reform, cyber attacks, and increased personal responsibility for our own care and its costs – to put the patient in the center of the equation.

Standard based patient facing technology, able to receive, pull and aggregate EMR summaries sent via DIRECT by the 90+ percent of federally certified EMR systems, paid for in part by American tax payers, should now be put to use to solve the persistent lack of interoperability and its dramatic patient safety and high cost of care consequences. Today, more than 75 percent of Americans use a smartphone. Armed with their own medical information – securely stored on his or her own mobile device where it is safe from hackers, the citizen-healthcare consumer can have a leading role in reducing medical waste, cutting costs, improving the care they get, and protecting themselves from potentially fatal medical errors. These are goals and objectives that everyone should be fighting for, and that policy makers and our new HHS leadership must encourage.

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