Network-Dependent Patient Elopement Systems: Unveiling Risks and Vulnerabilities in Healthcare Security

Posted by on February 22, 2024 10:24 am

While the integration of digital technology in medical records and treatments in hospitals has brought about several benefits for doctors and patients alike, it has also increased cybersecurity challenges. There are several types of medical systems in hospitals that rely on a network backbone for general function including electronic health record systems, surgical systems, patient monitoring systems, and nurse call systems among many others. 

In many cases patient elopement systems which are designed to track, monitor and limit the movement of patients within a healthcare facility are no exception. There are several wander management and infant protection solutions on the market where network connectivity is crucial for functionality.

Elopement Systems That Rely On Network Connectivity For Essential Function

Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS)

RTLS is often used in patient wander management and infant protection to provide real-time tracking of patients within the facility. RTLS relies on a variety of wireless technologies, generally with a network-based backbone to transmit location data and updates in real-time, allowing healthcare staff to monitor patient movements and respond to potential safety concerns

GPS-Based Wander Management Systems

Other wander management systems, generally used for residential applications, use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track the movement of patients. GPS-based systems require network connectivity for transmitting GPS data and ensuring seamless communication between the tracking devices and the central monitoring system.

Wi-Fi-Based Wander Management Systems

Wander management systems that leverage Wi-Fi technology can provide indoor location tracking of patients. Wi-Fi-based systems rely on the hospital’s Wi-Fi network infrastructure to enable communication between tracking devices and the central monitoring system.

Cloud-Based Wander Management Solutions

Cloud-based wander management systems store and process patient location data in the cloud, allowing remote access and management. These systems depend on network connectivity to transmit data securely to the cloud server and facility real-time monitoring and reporting. And while the software is server based, there's still a reliance on some version of dedicated wireless network locally.

Types of Cybersecurity Challenges

Hospitals' network connections can face various threats that may compromise their availability and functionality. Some common types of threats that could potentially take down a hospital's network connection include Cyberattacks, malware and viruses, hardware failures, power outages, and network overloads among others.



Hospitals are susceptible to ransomware attacks, where cybercriminals encrypt the hospital's data and demand a ransom for its release. If a ransomware is successful, it can lead to network downtime which can disrupt hospital operations, compromise patient care, and pose significant risks to patient safety.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDos)

Attackers flood the hospital’s network with a massive volume of traffic, overwhelming the servers and causing a disruption in services.

Malware and Viruses

Malware and viruses can infect hospital systems, spreading rapidly and affecting network performance. Some malware may specifically target and disrupt network operations.

Insider Threats

Employees or contractors with privileged access may intentionally compromise the network. This could be due to financial motives, revenge, or other malicious intent.

Hardware Failures

Critical network hardware, such as routers, switches, or servers, may fail unexpectedly, leading to network outages.

Power Outages

Power disruptions can affect network operations, especially if hospitals rely on uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems that have limited capacity.

Network Overloads

Excessive usage or traffic spikes, especially during events like major software updates, can saturate available bandwidth, affecting network performance.

Some facilities may lack adequate cybersecurity measures, such as firewalls, encryption, and secure access controls. This makes them more vulnerable to cyber threats and unauthorized access.

What Happens When A Hospital’s Network Is Compromised?

When a wander management and infant protection system that relies on network connectivity experiences a network compromise or loss of connection, several consequences and safety measures come into play. The specific actions taken depend on the design and features of the system and can include the following frameworks.

Alerts and Notifications

In normal operation, these wander management and infant protection systems continuously monitor patient movements and trigger alerts or notifications if a patient approaches restricted areas or attempts to leave the designated zone. If the network is compromised or connection is lost, the system may be unable to send real-time alerts. In this case, healthcare staff may not receive immediate notifications of patient movements and these systems are forced into a lock-down mode, preventing patient movement.

Offline Mode

In certain systems, patients may be continuously tracked, and data may be stored locally when the network is functioning properly. If the network is compromised, the system may switch to an offline mode, allowing it to continue monitoring patient movements and storing data locally. However, real-time communication and remote monitoring, which are critical for patient protection, are impacted. This can also result in a forced lock-down mode as the only safe method to prevent patient elopement.

Manual Intervention

In systems where healthcare staff rely on automated alerts from the wander management and infant protection system to respond to patient movements promptly, manual intervention is required. In the absence of real-time alerts, staff may need to implement patrols to ensure patient safety. This can involve increased visual monitoring and physical checks in critical areas which puts a strain on physical resources and can lead to increased human error.

The Benefits of RFID-Based Wander Management Systems

Wander management and patient elopement systems that are RFID-based provide a secure system that is able to function effectively to protect patients even when the hospital’s network is compromised.

While RFID-based systems may use a network for programming and initial setup of the elopement prevention solution, their ongoing functionality does not rely on network connectivity to provide patient monitoring and alarm notifications. Systems such as Accutech’s Cuddles infant protection and Kidz pediatric elopement solutions use a dedicated network for communication and alert notification. This allows the system to provide real-time tracking of patients within a healthcare facility, allowing immediate alerts in case of unauthorized movement. Additionally, the RFID system can continue to generate notifications when a patient approaches a restricted area or attempts to leave a designated zone.

Accutech’s RFID-based solutions are safeguarded from RF interference throughout their lifespan. Each tag functions at an exclusive frequency situated at the periphery of a spectrum exclusively allocated to the Department of Defense. The distinctive combination of the embedded ID code on the RFID chip and the unconventional transmission frequency establishes Cuddles. Kidz and ResidentGuard as the most dependable infant protection and patient elopement systems currently available on the market.

The Cuddles RFID-based infant protection system offers a unique advantage by allowing parents to maintain their freedom of movement even in the event of a compromise in the facility's network security. Unlike other systems that enforce a lockdown mode in response to network security issues, Cuddles employs a sophisticated approach that enables patients to continue operating freely. This distinction ensures that the system prioritizes patient autonomy while still maintaining the necessary security measures. By providing this flexibility, Cuddles enhances the overall patient experience and safety, showcasing its superiority over systems that impose restrictive measures during network security challenges.

In conclusion, the critical need for patient elopement systems in ensuring healthcare security is undeniable. It’s important to keep in mind the potential risks associated with systems dependent on operational networks. It is paramount for healthcare facilities to prioritize patient safety by choosing systems that offer resilience in the face of network compromises. Opting Accutech's solution, can provide the needed assurance. With a design that ensures functionality even without continuous network connectivity, these systems empower healthcare providers to maintain patient safety seamlessly. Investing in non-network-dependent solutions becomes an imperative step towards achieving a balance between security, autonomy, and efficient patient care in the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare technology.