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Dartmouth awarded grant to strengthen cybersecurity of medical records

Union Leader Correspondent

August 19. 2013 10:18PM
DAVID KOTZ ... leading Dartmouth study 

David Kotz, an associate dean and professor of computer science at Dartmouth will lead a study funded by a $10 million grant that will find ways to improve cybersecurity of medical records. (FILE PHOTO)

HANOVER — Dartmouth and three other universities were awarded a $10 million grant Thursday from the National Science Foundation to strengthen cybersecurity for health care information.

The Foundation's Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace Frontier Award is to support a five-year project called Trustworthy Health and Wellness, known as THaW, said David Kotz, Dartmouth's associate dean of the faculty for the sciences and a professor of computer science.

Kotz is the team's lead principal investigator.

As the lead school, Dartmouth is to be bestowed $4 million of the $10 million grant, he said.

The project is part of Dartmouth's Institute for Security, Technology and Society's research initiative on information systems and health care.

The interdisciplinary THaW team from Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan includes experts from computer science, business, behavioral health, health policy and health care information technology.

The THaW team research plan will focus on three areas: usable authentication and privacy tools; trustworthy control of medical devices; and trust through accountability.

Mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets and medical devices that control medical implants wirelessly, as well as cloud-based services, are the focus of the study, Kotz said.

"These are all trends that are happening in the health care industry," Kotz said, but were not considered back in 2009 when federal regulations for electronic medical records were enacted. "The landscape is changing rapidly."

Kotz used a small medical practice as an example, citing the inability to afford the infrastructure of an in-house database for its electronic medical records.

"If you are a small clinic, it's not your expertise, information technology," Kotz said, so the practice would likely choose cloud-based services. How that sensitive information is protected from hackers is the issue.

Medical science is also on the forefront of developing technology to control implanted medical devices wirelessly, Kotz said, such as the diabetes patient who can wirelessly measure their glucose level from an implanted medical device and command the implant to inject the right amount of insulin.

How can these wireless devices be protected from intentional or inadvertent tampering, Kotz asked.Lisa Marsch, head of the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, and Eric Johnson, professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, are co-principal investigators.Johnson will soon join Vanderbilt University as dean of the Owen School of Business, but plans to continue as a collaborator on the project.

The five-year-long project will start Sept. 1, Kotz said.

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