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SALSI Clusters in Research Excellence Award Funds Healthcare Cybersecurity Study

Finding technology solutions in healthcare requires a team science approach which The San Antonio Life Sciences Institute (SALSI) funding has fostered for over a decade between UT Health San Antonio and The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) researchers, said Andrea Giuffrida, Ph.D., Vice President for Research at UT Health San Antonio.

The SALSI Clusters in Research Excellence award program is supporting the emergence of an academically driven cluster to address healthcare cybersecurity. By investing in intellectual capital and interdisciplinary research, both institutions are better positioned to be competitive in seeking federal dollars that provide solutions to the $37 billion biosciences and healthcare industry in San Antonio.

The collaborative team of associate professor Azizeh K. Sowan, Ph.D., and Kathleen Stevens, Ed.D.,from the School of Nursing at UT Health San Antonio and UTSA researchers Shouhuai Xu, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Guenevere (Qian) Chen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, were awarded a $100,000, one-year grant to study how to strengthen the safety and cybersecurity of clinical alarm systems (CASs).

“This is my first time working on a cybersecurity project,” Sowan said. “I am an expert in clinical alarm systems and safety, especially in informatics in which I look at the effects of alarm fatigue. This collaboration is a perfect fit between our two teams.”

The need for strong cybersecurity in the healthcare industry can impact the safety and well-being of patients, who are often dealing with life-threatening conditions and rely on functioning medical device alarm systems to alert healthcare professionals. Patient information remains one of the biggest targets for cybercriminals, as seen in the 2016 ransomware attacks on Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.

“We chose to work on this problem because the U.S. government and healthcare organizations have stressed the importance of CASs cybersecurity.”

No one has, to Sowan’s knowledge, published anything to date assessing CASs cybersecurity looking at three separate and combined factors: the human interaction with the monitor, the monitor’s tendency for false alarms, and the device’s cybersecurity.

“SALSI funds these types of transdisciplinary projects to find new ways to address societal challenges, by leveraging and merging the expertise of researchers from disparate fields who may not have collaborated before. We’re taking what UTSA is renowned for, our cybersecurity expertise, and partnering with UT Health San Antonio, which brings its clinical expertise, to find new ways to tackle this timely issue. We hope the project will result in making CASs safer and more secure for patients, alleviating the number of false alarms and streamlining operations to benefit patient care,” explained Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA Interim Vice President for Research, Economic Development and Knowledge Enterprise

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