Bioethics Blogs

Cyber Security & Implanted Bio-Monitoring Devices

Dylan Roskams Edris describes risks associated with implantable remote bio-monitoring devices.

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Over the past few years, there has been a rapid growth in the development of implantable remote bio-monitoring systems for medical purposes. For example, implantable monitors that allow for constant monitoring of blood glucose and heart status are being tested in clinical trials. A defining feature of implantable monitors for medical care is the ability to transmit the data they collect wirelessly without patient intervention. Suzanne E. Spaulding, former Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that: “It has been predicted that by 2020 the internet will expand to include 50 billion connected devices.”  We can expect that this will include the expansion of bio-monitoring systems.

The appeal of such technology is clear. For chronic conditions like diabetes, the early detection of hypoglycemia can let the patient or healthcare professional take emergency action or notify paramedics before the patient has a potentially fatal seizure. In addition, if a physician or sufficiently sophisticated medical system can access data related to a chronic condition on a remote basis preventive measures can be taken to stop dangerous acute symptoms from occurring in the first place.

However, the uptake of implantable remote bio-monitoring also poses several risks. First, there is a risk that bio-monitoring devices could be illegally hacked or intercepted. If the operation of a device is dependent on the transfer of information between the device and some centralized healthcare system then interference with information going in either direction could affect the device’s function.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.