Healthcare Hackers: Patient Information on the Black Market

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of grabbing burgers for dinner with my husband and one of his friends. This particular friend happens to be a. hilarious and b. work for a major hospital system (the two are not mutually exclusive contrary to popular belief). So, as a group we got along fabulously. While my husband’s newest pal is employed in healthcare, he functions behind the scenes rather than directly with patients. Yes, he is the dreaded IT guy.

Initially, I assumed that working in IT, even in a directorial role for a major healthcare employer, was mind numbing, life-sucking work. Then, my husband’s friend began to relate stories about his typical day on the job. Deflecting hacking attempts from India and Bulgaria and protecting employees from money-sucking scams was all in a day’s work. I was captivated by his tales of taking creative measures in the fight to protect confidential patient information.

Our conversation gave me a newfound appreciation for my own hospital’s tech staff. The only time I typically interact with the computer wiz’s employed at my hospital is when something breaks or a scheduled computer downtime causes the emergency department to go bezerk and I contemplate (seriously) quitting my job on the spot. I now understand that hospital IT involves so much more.

Medical records are worth more to hackers than credit card numbers on the black market. In fact, they are worth as much as ten times more. Breeches in healthcare data systems can be difficult to track and often go unnoticed by patients, perhaps even for years. In some cases, according to the FBI, patient information can sell for up to $50 per chart. The push to move patient information to electronic medical records combined with the fact that hospitals often use outdated computer systems creates the perfect storm for data breaches. From personal laptops stolen from medical providers to larger, coordinated hacking attempts, there is a war going on over medical data behind the scenes in your hospital or clinic.

My takeaway from our dinner, aside from a belly full of sweet potato fries, was to be more patient with the technology in my workplace. It may seem like the IT staffer on duty doesn’t act with urgency when the emergency department printer breaks at 2am on a Saturday night, but really he or she could be wide awake battling foreign assaults on patient data or combating medicare fraud at its source.

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So, tomorrow when you feel like doing this to your printer

Be patient and remember your hospital’s IT department may be fighting cyber crime.


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