Intermountain CISO on new threats

By Tom Sullivan
11:00 AM
'The thing we have to be aware of as we embrace this technology is that we need to be enablers and not build walls and barriers.'
Karl West

Among the 71 mobile and telemedicine projects underway at Intermountian Healthcare are a smartwatch clinicians use, the gyrometer given to patients post-operation and the popular social networking tools Facebook, Twitter and Yammer.

And it’s Karl West’s job to protect those, and more. As Intermountain’s chief information security officer, West is in a state of proactive acceptance, rather than denial, about the proliferation and promise of mobile technologies.

“If we’re going to embrace this mobile world,” West said, “the way to do it is to find ways to enable, monitor, audit, control and put protections around the health data that is so vital.”

West is slated to deliver the opening keynote (“Enabling Mobile Healthcare: Privacy & Security in an Era of Accelerating Change”) at the day-long mobile Privacy & Security Symposium on Dec. 7 in Washington D.C within the mHealth Summit.

He is one of more than 20 privacy and security experts from leading healthcare, academic and government organizations who speak at the symposium. Speakers will share best practices, case studies and advice to help providers address BYOD, malware, medical device security and other prominent mobile privacy and security challenges and threats.

[See also: Intermountain to aid Cerner on DoD bid and No Stage 2 cash for Intermountain.]

Government Health IT Editor Tom Sullivan spoke with West about some of Intermountain’s bleeding-edge mobile projects and technologies that he is eyeing for the near future and the health system’s comprehensive architecture for keeping all that information private and secure.

Q: Are you already or how do you envision taking advantage of the emerging crop of mobile health apps?
We have about 200 medical informaticists, pure researchers that look at and come up with new ways to deliver care and to challenge the medical technology and processes of the past. In addition, we have created the Healthcare Transformation Lab where we bring in technologies and try to fit them into our environment. We give patients a gyrometer similar to the Fitbit. As a patient comes out of the OR, the quicker you can get them up and moving the faster that patient will be able to return to a normal, healthy life. What occurs with most patients though, is the post-operative recovery cycle can take days and that translates into healthcare costs and we have found that patients have a higher instance of return to acute care if they go home and don’t have a proper motion activity.

Within 30 days of leaving our system we don’t see them back, and we also see that they go home 1-2 days sooner than average patients within the system so we’re using those devices right now and having good success with them.

Q: In addition to the gyrometer, are there other devices you’ve already deployed?
One of the huge things in the industry right now is infection control — specifically surrounding Ebola  it’s been a huge issue. Sepsis has been a big issue for years. We put together a study a few years ago and determined that if we could reduce sepsis and increase infection control we could have a more healthy hospital system. One of the most fundamental things you can do to reduce the spread of infection is wash your hands frequently. So we developed a watch for our caregivers, nurses and doctors. The watch detects motion and it knows when a wearer goes from room to room. As soon as I leave a room, I need to be aware that I should be washing my hands. So the watch has a color-based alarm that goes off as I change rooms. Now the watch instead of being green is red, and based on a period of time, we also change that to a yellow to give clinicians the indication that they should be washing their hands for sepsis control. We’ve tried many things over the years: policies and procedures, putting signs on the walls. This mobile device sends information that managers can see. It has had a great impact in our hospital. We’ve tracked a reduction in infection.

Q: And it sounds like you are ahead of the smartwatch curve ...
We have devices like that but we are also looking at what Apple is doing, what Google is doing, because we think we can use those devices, maybe the health tracker Apple is making. We’re not looking to create everything ourselves but, rather, to use technologies that exist and expand them where we see a great health benefit that might become available. An example of that is the glucose monitors. We stream that data from a device to a physician, and then the physician can send back a short text or a Tweet to say “Hey, I didn’t see your data for 3 days. How are you doing? We’re interested in your life.” And so by embracing the mobile environment, we think we can use things like Twitter and Yammer and Facebook and other technologies and devices that can be enabled to help our patients live the healthiest lives possible.