Hot Clicks in Health IT: Indiana Hospital Caves in to Ransomware

Hot Clicks in Health IT: Indiana Hospital Caves in to Ransomware

The health sector remains among the most common targets of hackers and cyber crooks.

Last week, Hancock Health of Indiana fell victim to a ransomware attack that cost it $55,000. Of the 1,400 patient files affected, secure backups remained untouched, and the hospital could have recovered the info given enough time. The hackers encrypted the files and changed their names from patient names to “I’m sorry.” CEO Steve Long announced Hancock was now “recovery mode” and would take action to improve its resiliency in the face of a similar future  attack.

Despite lacking a guarantee that forking over the ransom — which was paid in bitcoin — would prevent further theft or corruption of files, Hancock decided to fold, highlighting a larger trend within the health care industry. Health systems are particularly vulnerable to attacks and extortion. The hackers entered the system through the remote access portal, using a valid outside vendor username and password.

Because of the high demand for medical records on the black market, the vulnerability of health care providers to ransom demands and the difficulty of greater integration and security, the health sector remains among the most common targets of hackers and cyber criminals. Providers of antivirus software, security best practices, firewalls and secure communications systems will be even more essential over time, as hospitals up spending in these areas. HealthIT Security

Creating One Streamlined System of Many Convoluted Ones

The Veterans Affairs Department is doubling down on its “18 for ‘18” priorities and collaborative projects for the current fiscal year. From addressing suicide and mental health, veteran homelessness, traumatic brain injury and PTSD to pet therapy, VA is taking on various problems that have long plagued the veterans’ health care provider.

Not only is VA working to forward its mission of serving the nation’s veterans through partnerships with the nonprofit and private sectors, but it is reaching out to industry to improve its oft-lamented health record systems. Reports have indicated that Cerner Corp., though the contract remains unannounced, will head up the effort to implement the same MHS Genesis electronic health record system employed by the Pentagon

Among VA's many objectives, it remains to be seen how effectively the agency can create a better online experience, as the many websites veterans use to receive care or benefits will be consolidated into a single site that integrates the many previously siloed services. To improve application programming interfaces, VA will also take suggestions and vendor proposals for new applications and APIs. Yet, migrating 30 years of data and integrating the services of multiple veteran-oriented websites may prove a decade-long challenge. VA.Gov

To Get Into Health IT, Amazon Needs Health Privacy Experts

Amazon has its finger in most sectors of the U.S. economy, and rumor has it the company wants to break into the pharmaceutical distribution business, needing expertise in rules outlined in the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act. Health security and privacy regulations constrain what a given firm may do with information, how it must protect data and the reasons a firm may share information with partners.

Debates continue about how Amazon might enter the health care marketplace — as a pharmacy benefits manager or as a direct competitor to other recent tech entries (Apple and Alphabet). To do so, the company must develop new methods for dealing with health-related information, fully separating health confidential information from commercial or advertising functions of the company.

Whether involved in shipping, service delivery, or health applications of artificial intelligence, the company that has profoundly rocked the shipping retail, cloud computing and home improvement industries has reason for seeking better understanding of health regulations. Perhaps this is all an attempt to make Alexa HIPAA compliant, so the automated assistant can work in hospitals across the country. Fortune, Forbes & Yahoo

Burned Out by EHRs?

A recent Medscape survey reveals a physician perspective on burnout and its causes. The No. 1 contributing factor (56 percent) were bureaucratic tasks like charting and paperwork, the surveyed doctors said. According to a University of Wisconsin study, physicians spend approximately half of their workdays on forms and electronic systems, with half the time devoted to face-to-face patient interaction they spend dealing with EHRs.

Increased hospital workloads, compensation or situations at home could all contribute to depression or burnout. Though technology is often touted as a solution rather than a problem, a quarter of doctors see increasing computerization (especially of EHRs) as a major frustration. Doctors tend to exercise, talk with friends, sleep or isolate themselves to deal with burnout, and a relatively low percentage (4 percent) believe their stress could cause them to make mistakes that affect patients.

From a technological perspective, computerization is necessary and difficult to manage. Health care providers must find innovative ways to balance the need for compliance with regulations, increasing access to health records and improving health care provider well-being. Though there are no easy solutions, some technologies could soon eliminate several major stressors. But adoption of automated assistants for tasks like transcribing patient data or checking patient records could significantly cut the time physicians spend on paperwork rather than dealing with patients. Medscape, MedCity News

Google Expands Focus into Health Care

The tech giant isn’t new to the health landscape; in November, parent company Alphabet developed a new health unit as part of its smart city division, Sidewalk Labs. Called Cityblock, the unit intends to use technology to “bridge the public health gap.” More recently, Google spent the beginning of 2018 investing in health IT companies that use machine learning and health care data to better connect patients with care.  

Specifically, Google is zoning in on data’s role in health care as a means of improving patient care and provider experience, so its collaborations surround machine learning, AI, analytics and health care cloud. For example, in 2017, the company struck partnerships with hospitals to explore machine learning and how it can help make health care data more actionable. It’s partnered with Stanford Medicine, University of California, San Francisco and University of Chicago Medicine to find ways machine learning could work in hospitals to prevent infections and medication errors.  

In November, Google announced partnerships with a number of health IT vendors that would provide clinicians with more access to medical images and increase interoperability and capability for those using Google Cloud. For example, by partnering with the imagining solutions company Change Healthcare, clinicians can better benefit from advanced analytics and collaboration tools. And the company’s outreach into the health care industry goes even further, into neural networks and precision medicine. HealthTech Magazine

Amanda Ziadeh contributed reporting.