Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Healthcare , Industry Specific

Ransomware: Disruption of Hospitals and Nearby Facilities

Researchers Rahi Abouk and David Powell on Study Findings, Need for Better Planning
Ransomware: Disruption of Hospitals and Nearby Facilities
Researchers Rahi Abouk, William Paterson University, and David Powell, RAND

A study investigating the impact of ransomware attacks on hospitals and the ripple effect on nearby facilities is a call to action for policymakers to seriously address how those assaults can be better handled in the health sector, said researchers Rahi Abouk and David Powell.

"We haven't had much activity in the policy landscape to address these attacks and try to reduce or prevent these attacks," said Abouk, an associate professor of economics and a researcher at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. He and Powell - an economist at think tank RAND - conducted a study evaluating the effect of ransomware attacks on targeted hospitals and nearby untargeted hospitals in California.

The research, recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association - or JAMA, examines how hospitals' emergency department visits and inpatient admissions were affected when a ransomware targeted them or a nearby facility.

"If the hospitals is subject to these attacks, probably informing the management of nearby hospitals about the incident would be beneficial," Abouk said in an interview with Information Security Media Group. But often, ransomware incidents are not revealed by hospitals for many months after an attack, leaving other nearby facilities unprepared to mobilize, he said.

Some hospitals saw a 6% to 7% increase in the number of emergency department cases they took in when a nearby hospital was attacked, said Powell in the joint interview with ISMG.

"These attacks on hospitals were affecting the capacity of nearby hospitals," which could potentially have an adverse effect on patients, he said.

In this audio interview with Information Security Media Group (see audio link below photo), Abouk and Powell also discuss:

  • The reasons for the decline in emergency department visits at hospitals hit by ransomware - and the uptick in emergency room visits at nearby facilities that were not attacked;
  • The effects that ransomware attacks have on inpatient admissions at targeted hospitals and nearby untargeted hospitals - and the reasons for those effects;
  • Patient safety and outcome considerations for ransomware attacks on hospitals.

Abouk's research focuses on health economics, exploring how supply-side and demand-side economic and health policies affect health behaviors and outcomes. It includes investigating the consequences of service disruptions in healthcare facilities due to cyberattacks.

Powell's research interests include investigating the impacts of hospital ransomware attacks, the implications of improved access to medical care and the consequences of electronic prescribing mandates.

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