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Medicine Security IT

Computer Virus Forces Hospital To Divert Ambulances 213

Posted by Soulskill
from the outbreak-at-the-hospital dept.
McGruber writes "The Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper is reporting that a hospital with campuses in Lawrenceville and Duluth, Georgia turned ambulances away after the discovery of 'a system-wide computer virus that slowed patient registration and other operations.' They're only currently accepting patients with 'dire emergencies.' A spokeswoman for the hospital said the diversion happened because 'it's a trauma center and needs to be able to respond rapidly.' The situation began on Thursday afternoon and is expected to last through the weekend."
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Computer Virus Forces Hospital To Divert Ambulances

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  • by kryptKnight (698857) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @05:10PM (#38330018)

    The hospital is still treating patients in emergency situations but is asking people with minor ailments, such as sore throats or sprained ankles, to contact their regular providers, Okun said.

    We're in a sad state when people need to go to the hospital to deal with sore throats and sprained ankles.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And when hospital computers run Microsoft operating systems!

      • by Datamonstar (845886) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:26PM (#38331456)
        I'm currently inside a hospital data center and I can tell you that windows is behind the scenes of a lot of the systems we use. Everyone in "the know" thinks it sucks that the majority of the problems we encounter is because of borked hardware configurations in appliance machines or Windows servers. We are on mainframe (as of today, it's still the only way to get everyone's critical data to almost a dozen moajor sites at once with 99.9 uptime and I don't see us abandoning it anytime soon) and there is a god-damned Windows server that is only used to encode EDI transactions to the JES2 spooler that always crashes, causing the spool to fill up, endangering the entire system. It's a very serious problem as the only solution to it once JES is full is to IPL the system.

        The server in question doesn't even show an error message. Well, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. you can stop and start the services all you like, but you're just wasting time as the JES2 spool gets bigger. The only solution is to reboot the Windows Server. It is redundantly mirrored, but we any of you with any sense will know that this does not make the situation any less frightening. The mirror is bound to be subject to the exact same problem, since it's software-related, which would put you back at square 1 in the event of a fail-over.

        Don't even get me started about malware. Of course, all the workstations throughout the system are Windows systems. Those should not matter in case of a power outage or system-wide failure because we have downtime procedures in place, but let's face it, we'd be majorly crippled if we were to ever loose our entire network and it would likely impair our ability to serve customers. Although it shouldn't. So far we've been lucky.
        • by baegucb (18706)

          You can dynamically add volumes to the JES2 spool. No need for an IPL. That's what your system programmer should doing. And automation should be running a command such as $DJOBQ,SPL=(%>3.0) every 5 minutes or so to check for jobs with high spool utilization, triggering an alert to the consoles.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @05:17PM (#38330076)

      Yes, but until the health care reform package runs most of the for profit insurance companies out of business that's going to remain to be the case.

      Sprained ankles though I wouldn't lump as a minor ailment. You don't necessarily always know if it's a sprain or a minor factor or torn ligament. Delaying care can end up costing a lot more money and result in inferior recovery.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yes, but until the health care reform package runs most of the for profit insurance companies out of business

        Whatever profits are to be purportedly "lost" during the healthcare reform will be made up by others' mandatory enrollment. It's all feelgood bullshit to keep the same ridiculously bloated healthcare complex fat. There are no real compromises here, and as usual, the common man loses.

        It's funny how all the big-business parrots are decrying it as "socialism," the for-profit healthcare complex is a big-businessman's wet dream.

        Also, the computer virus was because Windows.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Actually, the problem with that theory is that the health care reform package limits overhead to 15% for group packages and 20% for individual packages. The question is how that's going to be defined and the DHHS is making them include sales charges as overhead. Ultimately, they might be still around as private insurers, but the profit is going to be absolute crap as they'll have to rebate any money they take in on premiums above that back to the subscribers.

          Ultimately everybody enrolls in health insurance

      • Sprained ankles though I wouldn't lump as a minor ailment. You don't necessarily always know if it's a sprain or a minor factor or torn ligament. Delaying care can end up costing a lot more money and result in inferior recovery.

        Not really. Unless your managed to fracture more than one bone, in which case the pain would likely drive you to seek care, if you elevated it, put some ice on it, took some OTC pain meds you could easily wait out a weekend.

    • by The Pirou (1551493) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @05:18PM (#38330088)
      Catch a sore throat on the weekend as someone with an issue with their immune system when your regular care provider is unavailable, I think I'd go to the hospital too. Likewise if I was aged and fell, causing a swelling of the ankle. The injury could potentially be life threatening.

      Just because we're young and durable doesn't mean that there aren't a good number of others who have genuine health concerns that seem trivial to us.
      • by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @05:59PM (#38330492) Homepage Journal

        A sore throat can be something trivial, but it can also be something major. Going to a GP to have it checked out rather than waiting and seeing is the height of common sense. A hospital, not so much. Hospitals can do nothing a GP can't do, for those sorts of ailments. Hospitals only make sense if you actually need centralized, high-end medical treatment. You can't fit an MRI into a GP's office and a doctor certainly can't take one with them if they're doing house calls, nor will smaller facilities be able to detect everything in-house.

        Oh, I thought you were referring to a society with sensible health-care!

        The most intelligent health-care systems are ones where the method of delivery is one that suits the complaint. That doesn't necessarily mean the best - a poor but intelligent system will be more effective than a poor but stupid one, and will also be more reliable and more responsive than a rich but stupid one, but the rich but stupid system will still deliver better results in the end. What you want is rich and intelligent, but no country currently does that.

    • by stevedog (1867864)
      A sore throat is actually a pretty good patient. At least they have a diagnosable condition, and that puts them at least in the Top 40%. You'd be surprised how many patients' chief complaint is "my back hurts. It's been like this for the past year. I'm just tired of it."
    • by rbowen (112459) Works for SourceForge

      I know folks who go to the hospital for that and things even more trivial. Like - I am not making this up - heartburn. For me I have to be just about dying before I go to the ER and wait 4 hours to be told to go home and rest and drink plenty of fluids.

      • by hawkinspeter (831501) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @06:38PM (#38330784)
        Going to hospital with heartburn is actually very common, especially for people with angina. Heart attacks and heartburn have almost identical symptoms, so it makes a lot of sense to go to hospital when you've got an existing condition.
        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Yup - a few Saturdays ago I made an emergency call to a doctor (on a holiday weekend no less) and after discussion brought a urine sample to a hospital over a suspected urinary tract infection.

          Now, for an ordinary person it might not have been the right call, but in this case the person it concerned had been in the hospital intensive care unit three times (a week each) with sepsis that originated in urinary tract infections. It has been kept under control for a few years now with vigilance and a bottle of

      • by jbengt (874751)

        I know folks who go to the hospital for that and things even more trivial. Like - I am not making this up - heartburn.

        Like my uncle, who went to the emergency room with chest pain, only to be treated for heartburn and sent home, only to come back to the emergency room several hours later and die of the heart attack he was actually having.
        FYI, symptoms of heartburn are similar to symptoms heart attacks.

    • Depending on the context, sprained ankles can make sense -- some sprains are difficult for the layperson to differentiate from a break.

      Sore throats... Well, not unless someone is immune suppressed or they're in a situation where a walk-in clinic or their regular general practitioner is unavailable.

    • We're in a sad state when people need to go to the hospital to deal with sore throats and sprained ankles.

      You're not very good at reading between the lines of a Cover-Your-Ass Public Relations statement. Are you?

      Having a "sore throat" in a US Hospital ER is a very specific code word which means vomiting blood, writhing on the floor in agony, and basically dying slowly in front of the ER nurses while they still refuse to treat you. Go ahead, listen to the 911 tapes and watch the actual video of the waiting room. [youtube.com]

      I'm sure that they would have said a similar thing "don't come to the hospital if you just have a sore

    • by Zapotek (1032314)
      The first one more often than not is a symptom of something else and the second one can cause long term problems if not treated properly. Of course you should get professional advice for both. I'm of course not talking about a simple cough here but if you start spewing brownish stuff then it's time to visit a doctor.
    • I wonder if this is giving anonymous any ideas for a social hack, close the hospitals country wide because they can't do billing or check on insurance. This shows hospitals would rather close than treat someone for free.
    • by Jawnn (445279)
      You (probably) do no know just how right you are.
      The oft-parroted "greatest healthcare system in the world" meme is often trotted out in the same sentence with "...accessible to everyone...", because yes, it's true, if you have not the means to access the greatest healthcare system in the world via more appropriate avenues, the local E.R. must treat you. And that is perhaps the biggest problem with this system. We (those of us who pay taxes AND insurance premiums) pay to have the sore throats and sprained
    • by sjames (1099)

      Welcome to health care in "the most advanced country on earth".

  • as if I have to ask...

    the article mentioned nothing about which o/s or apps they run. or their network topology. things that matter, you know.

    bet they thought about mentioning windows but their legal team said 'meh, why create trouble?'.

    omissions like that are dishonest.

    • by Locutus (9039)
      it's blown me away when I asked an admissions person if she had an internet connect that worked with Internet Explorer and she said yes.

      LoB
  • at my hospital we use webapps for 99% of access to results/radiography etc... with office365, isn't linux becoming the obvious answer? (ok, no outlook replacement maybe... - but all anyone uses it for is email!)

    • People also (ab)use the calendar function... specifically (ab)using shared calendars as a scheduling platform. They load up one calendar with 5 years of catering crap, then want to complain "why is this so slow?" and "why aren't we syncing?"
  • Nuisance, Not Crisis (Score:5, Informative)

    by stevedog (1867864) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @05:18PM (#38330080)
    I work at a trauma center, and we go to diversion all the time. It happens whenever the ER gets backed up to the point that the patients would be better served by going to a less-full ER than by coming to ours, even if that ER is a little further away. This happens at least twice weekly, although perhaps not as often as other, less busy ERs. Yes, the virus undoubtedly brought them to this clogged state much faster, but this isn't nearly the crisis the summary (or the article it is summarizing) makes it out to be.
  • by ChumpusRex2003 (726306) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @05:34PM (#38330264)

    Hospitals are often quite badly prepared for this sort of thing. A big problem is the number of computerised "medical devices" where the vendor insists on a very specific update policy (or very specific restrictions on 3rd party software).

    I worked at one hospital where Confiker took the whole IT system down. A big problem in repairing the damage was that there were a lot of PACS (digital X-ray/CT/MRI viewing/storage) workstations where the PACS vendor would not permit the relevant windows updates or a 3rd party anti-virus to be installed on the servers/workstations. They relented after a 24 hour stand-off, after they realised that they was nothing they could do to keep the system happy enough to meet the SLA without the updates and a suitable anti-malware.

    I work at another hospital now, where similar lack of updates due to comparability with old business apps prevents updates. E.g. The PCs still run XP SP1 (even the brand-new quad core xeons). There also doesn't appear to be funding for updating anti-malware - the hospital use Sophos 7 (which became unsupported last year).

    This hospital has chronic problems with virus/malware infestation on a number of office machines - but while IT can clean the computers manually, there seems to be a reservoir if infection on file-servers, USB drives, etc. So the infections come straight back after a manual deletion. This hasn't caused a catastrophe locally, so management don't seem to care, but it is a major annoyance, as infected documents frequently end-up getting e-mailed out to other hospitals/doctors and destroyed without trace by the recipient's e-mail system. Docs have been known to put the files on a USB stick, take it home, clean it with an up-to-date virus scanner and then e-mail it out.

    • to let IT install updates / anti-virus?

    • "This hospital has chronic problems with virus/malware infestation on a number of office machines - but while IT can clean the computers manually, there seems to be a reservoir if infection on file-servers, USB drives, etc. So the infections come straight back after a manual deletion. This hasn't caused a catastrophe locally, so management don't seem to care, but it is a major annoyance, as infected documents frequently end-up getting e-mailed out to other hospitals/doctors and destroyed without trace by th

    • That was my first thought. No plan. As a technologist I'm peeved by the fact that people assume a system will always function properly because it always has in the past. Therefore it is terribly difficult to get a business to plan for outages.

    • by jombee (111566)

      Yes, for very good reason network medical device vendors are specific as to what client software modifications can be made. This includes client-side security measures such as service packs, security patches, and antivirus. This is primarily due to FDA regulations which require full software qualification, validation, testing, and documentation. The full scope and diligent execution of an FDA-compliant quality safety process takes time and costs money. This is not like IT operations patching a web server; a

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      At a hospital you also often have lots of really flakey embedded devices and custom applications which don't react well to being probed... Once a worm starts spreading around the network and scanning, these devices can also crash under the load despite not being directly infected.

  • by Billly Gates (198444) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @05:36PM (#38330276) Journal

    I did a contract with one last March which was upgrading to new state of the art medical billing system to be Obamacare compliant.

    Ran Windows 7? No. Windows XP Service pack 3 right? No. Windows XP SP 2 with IE 6?!

    Normally it is not an issue but with HIPPA it is very serious this irritated me. Someone can literally hold the hospital hostage if these medical records for tens of millions of dollars and they need at least a patched and still supported version of XP like corporate America does. The problem is custom medical software and custom devices for Xrays and MRIs use IE 6 still and are not certifed with XP SP 3 ... unless you give them $$$$ to buy all new epuipment over again. This is new software being developed in 2010 I may add requiring IE 6 and some software wont even run with SP 3 on XP. This means no security patches.

    It does not surprise me there are viruses on hospital computers as they can't be patched. WIth HIPPA you would think a hospital would always demand and use state of the art fully patched systems for security. But if were the medical records software company or make MRI machines I would be still requiring IE 6 too so I can then price gouch and double dip and charge3 another $400,000 in 2013 when support ends. I can make even MORE money. ... end rant

    The greed is incredible in the industry, but doctors can be the most and worst clients and users if you chat with anyone who supports them. THey feel supperior because they have those PHDs and make tons of money. Luckily I just helped install stuff and ignored the rest of the staff. As a result I.T. staff just never upgrade as they do not want to deal with these users at all

    • lot's of other places still have XP and they are big places like BP.

    • so the software can run in a VM / under a newer OS.

  • Viruses are not an infrequent occurrence at the hospital, she said, but it’s never seen anything like this one.

    What gave it away? The patients had mice attached to them?

  • by ClickOnThis (137803) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @06:04PM (#38330534) Journal

    Am I the only one who parsed this headline and thought it was something from The Onion?

    Net we'll see "CERT Advisory Issued for Swine Flu Virus"...

  • This is (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Saturday December 10, 2011 @06:47PM (#38330844)
    Yet another example of how technology makes us stupid. How ever did we manage BEFORE computers and computer records... I guess patients just died in the hallways. The other day I went to a tire shop and asked the guy for some tires. He said he didn't have any. I asked him if he could check to see if another store in the chain across town had some. He said the computer network was down, and he couldn't do it from there. I guess telephones no longer work for calling the other store up and asking them like they did 20 years ago.
    • Re:This is (Score:4, Insightful)

      by zootie (190797) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:31PM (#38331162)

      While I might agree that some people do become stupid with tech (and oversimplify the complexity that computers are covering up and compensating), we also can't oversimplify the fact that it's not trivial to go back 20+ years to pre-computer procedures overnight for a temporary problem that will go away in a few days (or minutes or hours, as in the case of the tire shop employee).

      Besides employees not getting paid enough to go the extra mile (or that they're supposed to be doing something else), the likely end reason is likely that it isn't affordable or efficient or even possible. As it is, a common complain in the healthcare industry is that they're understaffed, and with automation, the number of employees has been reduced so much they would never be able to deal with the backlog manually (assuming that enough employees had the training to deal with pre-computer issues). Not to mention that in a complex team workflow, exceptions would make it risky (ie, if the patient isn't registered in the system, his/hers tests can't be attached, so the doctors can't access them properly, opening the hospital to liabilities).

      Old systems likely broke down and got replaced by digital systems that require much less from their operators. Before they might have been able to print, but maybe that printer isn't there anymore. Going all the way back to pre-computers might mean leaches.

      As for your tire experience. Maybe the employee was lazy and wasn't willing to go the extra mile. Or maybe he didn't have a yellow pages or a company directory (which might have been on-line). Or, likely, he is supposed to tend the counter, and isn't allowed to do something else when he is supposed to be servicing people coming in the door (or answering the phone). In the "olden days", we might have been dealing with the store owner, which would be more inclined to GEM, but with franchises and staffs cut to a minimum for the sake of 80%+ normalcy, it's no surprise that the quality of service suffers.

      In spirit, I agree that computers have made it too easy for stupidity to thrive. In fact, they have made it so easy that it is endemic at the business level, not just at the employee level. Rather than doing the work, businesses just farm it out to someone else, and then to someone else (ie, the "Cloud philosophy"), and you end up dealing with shells that are so far removed from the data that have no knowledge or interest in providing a reasonable service that falls slightly outside the normal expectation. And even when it's a typical offering, quality is often substandard and it only fulfills the need in the most general sense. But I'm starting to digress to another topic, so I'll stop.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As someone who works in a hospital i can tell you that reverting to a paper and pencil system requires at least 10x the number of workers for the same number of patients. And they would make many life threatening record keeping mistakes mistakes that are time consuming to identify since they would have to use this system infrequently if ever.

      As an example transcribing dozens of lab values on possibly hundreds of patients and a worker transposes a potassium of 7.3 to 3.7. That patient could die from that sim

      • The example I was always given was to imagine being open on an operating table and the operating doctor needs to access your records to confirm something before proceeding and your records cannot be reached, so he sends a runner to obtain them, adding an extra 5 - 10 minutes to the procedure. time during which you're cut open and vulnerable to infection and blood loss. Not a fun scenario, but a very realistic one.
        • by Dunbal (464142) *
          Imaginary and hypothetical scenarios are fun aren't they? Have you ever held a scalpel and made the incision? Have you every done it for god knows how many thousands of hours, at any and all possible times, when you felt good, when you felt sick, and when you should have gone to bed 10 hours ago? Don't worry, your scenario is absolutely the last thing that will ever happen to you. There's no last minute "oh I forgot something" once the operation has already begun. Usually you are worked on by professionals
      • by Dunbal (464142) *
        Preaching to the choir - I am a physician. I don't believe you because I work in a country that isn't computerized yet. If you transpose 3.7 and 7.3 so easily without a computer to double-check things for you then you prove my argument: computers make us stupid.
  • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintiumNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @11:18PM (#38332292)

    a trauma center and needs to be able to respond rapidly

    And we all know verifying insurance without a computer slows down medical procedures.

  • I deal with IT departments everyday for Hospitals, Schools, and other business in the South East and the biggest issue I see is lack of patching on Windows and Linux machines while keeping the virus definitions up-to-date. The IT departments know that patching is important but feel they can't patch an approved FDA device or the staff lacks the bandwidth to implement a proper patch testing cycle. The only solution that I see that consistently works for these type business is to virtually patch these machin

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