This week we were treated to a new symptom of the brave new medical world, the occurrence of which will certainly not be the last. CNBC reports that the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles has been hacked by unknown assailants, forcing the facility “to revert to paper registrations and medical records and send 911 patients to other area hospitals.” No word yet on whether any Kardashians have been in danger.
The hackers are demanding a $3.7 million ransom, and the hospital is quick to reassure that no patient’s care has been compromised. The emergency department is backed up and the fax lines jammed. The article quotes Tim Erlin of cybersecurity firm Tripwire: “It’s a good reminder that you don’t have to attack the medical device to attack its ability to deliver care.” Ain’t that the point?
This will happen again and again, resulting in greater boatloads of cash poured into the eternal cybersecurity arms race, and further restricting innocent staff from playing “Candy Crush” or Facebooking about the latest toddler diet tips. More layers of encryption, more revolving passwords, more sign-in levels will make working anywhere near a hospital and ever-growing pain in the ass. Money will be wasted, morale will suffer, and patient care will definitely not improve.
Who to blame? Everyone. The government wants every movement on a computer screen, even the bowel-type. All third-party payers push for more of this redundant wiring every day, and new layers of admistralians continue to lap it up and vomit it out, referring to the process as “productivity.” GOP presidential candidate and Gingrich in the 2012 race was repeatedly running his futurist gums over the need to make mandatory the exciting possibilities of computerizing all of health care; we all know how much good the ObamaCare EHR mandates have done. Organized medicine, consumer groups, and the family of the long-demented granny in Room 2 all insist that it all be “in the records.” And of course the lawyers circling in the parking lot are just waiting to dispense compassion if a single sentence goes missing; or if a paragraph falls into unauthorized hands and the superheroes from the HIPAA league have to swing into action.
Well here is another downside: the more we interconnect ourselves medically, the easier it is to take down large groups of us at once. These hackers just want a ransom – what if they destroyed the data? How would a large hospital provide for any treatment continuity, or even get paid? Will “The hackers ate my homework” fly with CMS? Yeah, I’m laughing too.
I’m no Luddite and I’m typing this rant on a laptop, not scratching it on a stone tablet. But our slavish, truly mindless rush to embrace computer networks as the primary customers will continue to harm patient care in direct and indirect ways. And scoff if you like, but wouldn’t a government or Big Insurance corporation desperate to save money at some point be willing to insert codes into payment programs that just delayed, or slightly corrupted submissions, just to, you know, make up some losses on the float? Remember, it’s not paranoia if it turns out they are really after you.Tweet