How Hospitals Can Tackle the Problem of Cyber Attacks
July 19, 2023
In large part, healthcare organizations’ successes are based on the quality of care they can provide to their patients, as well as their ability to maintain highly confidential patient records. Yet, despite meticulous efforts to secure patient data, healthcare organizations are still susceptible to harmful ransomware attacks, which are becoming more advanced and frequent.
Ransomware has become a hot topic as of late, with businesses across the industrial spectrum finding themselves being forced to pay big money to remedy intrusions. Ransomware is a specifically designed malware used to extort money from a victim, either blocking the user’s access to data, services, and digital technology or threatening public exposure of private data unless a ransom is paid.
In a five-year study posted by JAMA Health Forum – an international, peer-reviewed, open access journal that examines health policy and trends – found there were 374 reported ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations throughout the United States from 2016 to 2021. Researchers found that the attacks resulted in increased exposure of personal health information (PHI), from 1.3 million patients impacted in 2016 to 16.5 million patients impacted in 20211.
Which facilities were most susceptible to ransomware attacks? Clinics. Hospital systems followed as a close second – especially those that were multi-facility organizations. While the breach and exposure of highly confidential PHI is troubling, the researchers also discovered that ransomware attacks had a detrimental impact on the care victimized organizations were able to provide to patients.
The impact of cyber incidents on patient care
According to the study, 44% of the attacks resulted in disruptions to delivery of care, with impacts from 9% of those attacks lasting longer than two weeks. These disruptions took the shape of electronic system downtime and delays or cancellations of scheduled care. In some cases, organizations reported that their emergency departments had to divert ambulances to other healthcare providers as they could not access patient medical records due to an attack.
Although further study would be needed to fully understand how these attacks directly impacted patient health, it’s easy to see how the disruptions they caused might have had harmful impacts on patients, especially those requiring timely and uninterrupted care.
For some of the organizations that experienced an attack, their clinicians were forced to revert to pen and paper methods of charting while their systems were recovered, restored and, in some cases, completely rebuilt. One hospital system reported that the security bracelets that are typically given to newborns could not be scanned and recorded, forcing its staff to physically guard the unit’s doors to prevent the unauthorized movement of newborns2.
Additionally, since nurses were no longer receiving digital notifications, critical changes in vital signs like blood pressure or heart rate could go unnoticed, resulting in delayed care for patients.
Solutions for the persistent security threat
The daunting reality is that healthcare organizations will need to constantly battle against ever-present cybersecurity threats, the likes of which could become even costlier in the future as hackers and phishers become more adept at holding critical systems and information hostage.
However, healthcare systems can fortify their cybersecurity defenses by deploying digital solutions designed with enhanced security measures to help protect PHI and empower clinicians to provide high-quality healthcare.
When healthcare organizations partner with Honeywell, they benefit from our 75 years of experience in the healthcare market. Our focus is on developing solutions that seamlessly integrate into existing IT investments without disruption, all the while empowering your clinicians and enhancing the security of your digital infrastructure.
From the award-winning CT30 XP Healthcare (HC) mobile computer – built on the durable, stable and secure Mobility Edge™ platform – to in-depth analytical software in Operational Intelligence, Honeywell healthcare solutions are designed to help you stay on the forefront of healthcare technology. Our solutions are tested across thousands of customer deployments worldwide.
To learn more about how Honeywell’s technologies and expertise can help improve your organization’s cybersecurity defenses, contact our healthcare team today.