Keep your work computer free of viruses to avoid problems

February 25, 2012

Computer viruses can grind your practice to a halt and open up the possibility of lawsuits. Learn how to keep your system virus-free.

YOUR NEXT STOP, THE TWILIGHT ZONE

Dr. Smith's last patient left hours ago, but he still hasn't finished his electronic charts. Not fully trusting the newly installed remote access to his office's electronic health records (EHR) system, but needing to get home for his son's birthday dinner, he downloads the charts onto a USB flash drive to complete them at home. He doesn't know yet that earlier in the day, his teenage daughter clicked on an attachment received on his home computer and downloaded a virus.

The phone rings. It's Mercy Hospital telling Dr. Smith that one of his patients is in the emergency department (ED) and unconscious. The ED needs her history and drug allergies. He cannot get any of that information from the computer; the virus has locked him out of all patient information. The ED nurse administers a broad-spectrum antibiotic. The patient has an extreme allergic reaction and dies. Wrongful death lawsuit papers arrive a week later, alleging a failure to take proper cognizance of, and act on, the patient's prior history.

A few days after that, six patients ask Dr. Smith if he knows anything about their credit cards being overcharged for purchases of electronics. One patient says her credit card company told her that someone had obtained her credit card account number and she asks if it has anything to do with that new-fangled computerized records system his office installed.

A COMMON PROBLEM

This visit to The Twilight Zone was, to mix television metaphors, "ripped from the headlines."

Last year, Gwinnett Medical Center in Georgia was forced to transfer all nonemergency admissions when a computer virus prevented the staff from fully accessing patient records. The entry point, it was believed, was an infected flash drive.

In 2010, Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California, virtually ground to a halt due to a virus that downloaded volumes of pornography and activated the hospital's printers to print reams of gibberish. It was not determined if the cause was a cyber-attack or infected portable media.

In 2006 in Chicago, Illinois, a hospital shut down because of a virus that affected intensive care unit monitors and infusion pumps. Another medical center found its climate control fluctuating wildly when a security guard demonstrated that he had the password to cause the temperature in the hospital to rise to 100°.