UVM Health Network computer outage disrupted care, left cancer patients in limbo

Cyberattacks against hospitals disrupted operations and healthcare delivery, according to The New York Times.

In the most recent example, Burlington, Vt.-based UVM Health Network reverted to paper records after a security incident forced its computer system and EHR offline for nearly a month. The hospital took steps to serve patients in critical need, but postponed other services including some surgeries.

Staff worked to restore vital patient information and chemotherapy protocols from memory, according to the report. During the outage, the cancer center was able to treat about 25 percent of the normal chemotherapy patients. Some patients were unable to receive their chemotherapy as scheduled.

"[Clinicians] were trying to remember everything they knew about a patient, but none of that is accurate," Elise Legere, a nurse in the cancer center, told the Times. "Our brains are not designed to be electronic medical records. That's not safe, and we all know it."

It took longer than expected to restore the computer systems, according to Executive Vice President for Operations Al Gobeille, and members of the FBI cybersecurity team assisted the health system in bringing its system back online. UVM Health Network had 1,300 servers and 5,000 laptops and computers to restore.

But health issues won't wait for computer system restoration. One patient quoted in the article said an MRI taken two days before the cyberattack showed aggressive bone cancer returned, but his scans have been unavailable during the outage and physicians were unable to confirm the radiologist's report.

The UVM Medical Center's radiation oncology services are currently open to schedule and treat patients, but the hospital is requesting patients call ahead to confirm their appointments. However, the hospital is not performing any outpatient radiology appointments and has diverted those patients to network affiliates until computer systems are fully back online.

"Our imaging staff have limited access to patient data but are reviewing schedules daily and contacting patients for those they know about," according to a statement on the hospital's website.

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