The Portsmouth Herald of New Hampshire raises a scary prospect:
As defibrillators become more common, and doctors attend to many more patients with the devices, ICDs (implantable cardioverter-defibrillators) are being tailored to relay information from outside the examination room, according to Dr. Mark Jacobs, a Portsmouth Regional Hospital cardiologist.
The Food and Drug Administration has already approved – and medical technology companies are already marketing – equipment for the devices that can transmit a patient’s heart-monitoring information, such as an electrocardiogram, through phone lines. A cardiologist can assess a patient’s progress while the patient is miles away.
“As the technology changes, more and more of this is being done at the home for patients with an inability to be transported,” Jacobs said. “Some patients go to Florida, and they’re living here only part time.”
With breakthroughs in defibrillator technology come security concerns. The remote relaying system – which allows patients to hold a wand above their chest and transmit information through an answering machine-sized contraption – is encrypted. But like any telecommunications, there is the small risk of a hacker obtaining sensitive information, Jacobs said.
He added that, while the FDA has not approved it, technology now exists to allow physicians to program ICDs through the phone lines. Currently, heart disease patients have regular checkups to fine tune their defibrillators.
“The devices aren’t perfect. As people change medication, their defibrillators need to be adjusted, or a battery can start to be depleted,” Jacobs said.
“If it’s approved that we are able to re-program the device over the phone, it’s theoretically possible that someone could intercept that call and reprogram someone’s device in an adverse fashion.”
Peter Gove, vice president for St. Jude Medical, which sells a home remote monitoring system for defibrillators, said the technology for remote reprogramming of the devices is a long a way off, but “moving in that direction.”