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A new threat tops ECRI's annual health tech hazards list

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
For the first time, ransomware and other cybersecurity threats made it to the top of ECRI’s list of health technology hazards.

A Protenus report found that 233 health data breaches were reported between January and June 2017, which is on pace to surpass last year’s total of 450.

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A cyberattack can prevent access to patient records, disrupt the functionality of networked medical devices, disable third-party services, disturb the supply chain for drugs and supplies, and affect building and infrastructure systems. That may result in canceled procedures, altered workflows, damage to equipment and systems, exposure of sensitive data, and force closures to entire care units.

In order to prevent these attacks, ECRI recommends a proactive approach that brings together senior management, clinical engineering, IT and other individuals throughout the organization.

Infusion errors are frequently cited toward the top of the annual list, but this year it didn't make the cut. Rob Schluth, senior project officer in the health devices group, told HCB News that the absence of it should not be interpreted to mean that it's no longer a concern.

"Infusion safety does remain a key technology management consideration," he added. "However, for the new list our experts determined that we could do the most good — that is, we could make greater contributions to patient safety initiatives — by highlighting other topics."

A newer topic on the current list is the improper cleaning of medical devices. ECRI considers this an "under-the-radar" topic and calls on hospitals to investigate whether equipment failure could be the result of cleaning incompatibility issues, and to recognize that no single cleaner or cleaning process will work with all devices.

"Ultimately, the need to stock and use multiple cleaning products, along with the requirement to familiarize staff with device-specific cleaning methods, remains a significant burden for hospitals," said Schluth. "But the failure to do so can adversely affect patient care, as well as result in costly equipment damage."

Other hazards that made it on the list are missed alarms, unholstered electrosurgical active electrodes, cross-contamination from mattresses and cover, the inadequate use of digital imaging tools, medical device networking flaws, workarounds and the slow adoption of safer enteral feeding connectors.

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