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Cybersecurity Threats Top ECRI Institute’s List of Health Tech Hazards

November 9, 2017
by Heather Landi
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Ransomware and other cybersecurity threats, endoscope reprocessing failures and missed alarms are among the top health technology hazards healthcare provider organizations need to be aware of in the coming year, according to a list released this week by the ECRI Institute.

ECRI Institute compiled its Top 10 Health Technology Hazards for 2018 list to inform healthcare facilities about important safety issues involving the use of medical devices and systems. Produced each year by ECRI Institute’s Health Devices Group, the Top 10 Health Technology Hazards list identifies the potential sources of danger that warrant the greatest attention for the coming year and reflects the ECRI Institute’s judgment about which risks should receive priority now.

To compose the list, ECRI Institute engineers, scientists, clinicians, and other patient safety analysts nominated topics for consideration and also considered the thousands of health-technology-related problem reports the Institute has received through its Problem Reporting Network and through data shared with its patient safety organization, ECRI Institute PSO. They also weighed factors like severity, likelihood that the hazard could cause serious injury or death, frequency, overall likelihood and the likelihood of the spread to affect a great number of people, either within one facility or across many facilities, insidiousness, and preventability among other factors.

The number one threat, according to the report, is ransomware and other cybersecurity threats to healthcare delivery and the danger posed to patients. Ransomware and other types of malicious software programs can infiltrate a network, propagate through connected devices and systems, and encrypt data, disabling user access, software, and IT assets, the report notes.

In a healthcare environment, a malware attack can significantly impact care delivery by rendering health IT systems unusable, by preventing access to patient data and records, and by affecting the functionality of networked medical devices.” Further, such attacks can disable third-party services, disrupt the supply chain for drugs and supplies, and affect building and infrastructure systems. Such disruptions can lead to canceled procedures and altered workflows (e.g., reverting to paper records). They can also damage equipment and systems, expose sensitive data, and force closures of entire care units. Ultimately, they can compromise or delay patient care, leading to patient harm,” the report authors wrote.

Safeguarding against malware attacks requires a proactive approach involving senior management, clinical engineering, IT, and other individuals throughout the organization, the report states.

The second health technology hazard the ECRI Institute identified was endoscope reprocessing failures, which continue to expose patients to infection risk, followed by stretcher mattress and cover contamination.

Missed alarms continue to be a top hazard as well, and may result from inappropriately configured secondary notification devices and systems. Secondary alarm notification systems are intended to facilitate timely notification of the appropriate clinician, but configuration or management problems with the systems themselves can lead to alarm delivery delays or failures, the report states.

The ECRI Institute identified medical device cleaning methods as the fifth technology hazard, as improper cleaning may cause device malfunctions, equipment failures and potential for patient injury.

The last five hazards identified on the list were electrosurgical electrode pencil handling; digital imaging tools used to reduce and control radiation dose not being used to their full advantage; bar-coded medication system workarounds; flaws in medical device networking, which can lead to delayed or inappropriate care and slow adoption of safer enteral feeding connectors, which leaves patients at risk.




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