Researchers at Dartmouth College have developed a ‘magic wand’ to wave away concerns about mHealth data security. The device called ‘Wanda’ uses radio waves to securely link mobile health devices in hospitals, clinics and the home.

The device called ‘Wanda’ automatically connects wireless monitors to a secure network (photo credit Dartmouth College)

The device called ‘Wanda’ automatically connects wireless monitors to a secure network (photo credit Dartmouth College)

Wanda addresses a growing problem of data security in healthcare. As medical records are digitized and millions of wireless devices are deployed at hospitals across the country, patient health and financial data have become more vulnerable to theft and privacy invasions. According to a recent study from the Ponemon Institute, data breaches cost U.S. hospitals roughly $6 billion a year.

Data security also becomes a concern as healthcare moves out of formal care settings and into the home. For example, a physician may ask a patient to take home a wireless blood-pressure monitor that sends data directly to the patient’s electronic health record. While this is a convenient way to remotely monitor patient health, it also introduces security challenges as patient data now has to be sent over home and hospital wireless networks.

As Dartmouth computer science professor David Kotz explains, one of the main challenges for data security is that people don’t know how to set up and maintain a secure wireless network. This makes it easier for hackers to access data and can compromise critical medical devices like heart rate monitors or dialysis machines.

Wanda is a small piece of hardware that makes it easy for people to add a new device to their clinical or home wireless network. The Dartmouth team published the technical details in this article, but the basic idea is simple enough to feel like magic. In the case of the blood-pressure monitor, a patient would simply have to remove the wand from a USB port in the wireless router and place it adjacent to the monitoring device. Wanda would automatically establish a secure connection to the wireless network.

Wanda is the latest mobile security solution developed through Dartmouth’s Trustworthy Health and Wellness project. The 10-year initiative is funded by a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation shared between Dartmouth, John Hopkins University, University of Illinois, the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt. The project aims to protect patient confidentiality as medical records move from paper to electronic form and as health care moves out of clinical settings and into the home.