Can People Really Hack Into My Pacemaker?

Question: I read in the newspaper that people can use wireless technology to hack into my pacemaker and reprogram it. Is this true, and is there anything I can I do to prevent it?

Answer: In terms of access to pacemakers by hackers, there has been some limited information recently based on experimental studies suggesting that this is possible. There's actually two issues here.

One has to do with hacking into the pacemaker and reprogramming its function. In order to do that, the device used to get into the pacemaker has to be very close to the pacemaker in terms of today's technologies. And it's not really realistic to think at this point in time that this is a real danger to patients.

In terms of stealing confidential medical information, this might be achievable at a little bit more remote distance. But it still has to be fairly close. In addition, it's my understanding that pacemaker manufacturers are working on technologies that would alert a patient to the occurrence of an attempt to get into his device remotely by an audible signal that a patient would recognize.

So, while this is a concern in pretty much in its infancy and based on experimental data and no practical demonstrations that this is a real problem for patients, it's something to keep attuned to. And if it evolves into a problem, I'm quite sure the industry will find a way around it.