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Truly chilling implications: when hospitals get hacked

When readers hear the words "restoring normal operations," they might reasonably think of something like getting the lights back on at the ballpark following a power outage. Getting back to normal might also apply to something like getting the planes back in the air and landing routinely once an oil spill on a runway has been cleaned off, or resuming full speed at a factory following a work stoppage.

Of course, we are now firmly embarked on the 21st century, where many things in life have changed, including, centrally, the implications posed by continuously evolving technological tools and standards.

Progressively sophisticated technology in the nation's hospitals is a case in point, where the constant application of next-stage tech assists has been a sort of mixed blessing.

On the one hand, for example, electronic health records systems are commonly in place in most medical facilities in Arizona and nationally. So-called EHR's have dramatically transformed the hospital landscape.

On the other hand, they have also rendered it vulnerable to cyber criminals, who are just as capable as -- indeed, an influx of evidence suggests they are far more capable than -- the technicians who install, monitor and seek to safeguard hospital record systems.

A case in point: A hospital in Los Angeles recently admitted that it paid $17,000 to hackers who had infiltrated its proprietary records system and were holding it ransom. That payment secured a "key" that enabled administrators to get things back to normal.

How scary is that?

Moreover, isn't failure to adequately protect patients' private and vitally important data hospital negligence, pure and simple?

A recent account of the incident states that patients could especially be harmed by such a breach in the event that computers are linked with monitoring stations and bedside equipment. Such is often the case.

It has been noted that hospitals lag the banking industry by a decade or more in the systems they have set up to combat hacking. That is certainly notable, given that medical data are every bit as confidential and important as is financial information.

Indeed, the potential for hacking in the medical sphere is far more frightening. A financial hack can empty one's wallet, to be sure, but holding a hospital's record system hostage can literally become a life-and-death situation for some patients.

Security improvements are certainly needed.

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