Several years ago, doctors and hospitals started moving patient records away from paper and into electronic systems. Electronic health records have a number of benefits, but a recent cyber attack demonstrates that they are not always safe.
The potential benefits of electronic health records for patient care are clear. For example:
- It can be easier for your doctors to share information among themselves.
- It is easier for you, as a patient, to access your health information.
- Many electronic records systems allow you to communicate with your doctors through an online messaging service.
These benefits are meaningful and, in my work handling medical malpractice cases, I have seen these features improve patient care.
As with most technology, however, there are potential downsides. Perhaps one of the scariest is the idea that our health information may not remain private, safe, and secure.
If you have any doubt about this possibility, you need look no further than what happened to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, California a few weeks ago. As The Washington Post reported, hackers used malware to hijack the hospital’s medical record system and demanded a ransom to restore the hospital’s system. The ransom was paid in Bitcoins (a form of payment that makes tracing the hackers more difficult) and amounted to approximately $17,000.
What can we learn from this? The security of our health records is not a given. Advances that help patient care may also have risks. And doctors and hospitals must be proactive about protecting their systems and the sensitive patient information stored on them.