Ascension suffers ransomware attack: What spine, orthopedic surgeons need to know

Practice Management

St. Louis-based Ascension confirmed a ransomware attack that happened May 8, the health system said May 11.

Ascension is focused on restoring services "as safely as possible" across its 140 hospitals, according to an update. Affected services include  electronic health records systems and systems used to order some tests, procedures and medications. As of May 13 there isn't a timeline for restoration.

Ascension's investigation of the incident is ongoing. While hospitals and facilities are open, several hospitals are on diversion for emergency care due to downtime procedures, the health system said.

The Ascension cyberattack comes months after the sweeping Change Healthcare incident in February. The recovery from that ran to about mid-March.

The Change Healthcare incident sparked larger concerns among physicians, and spine and orthopedic surgeons are keeping a close eye.

In April OrthoConnecticut reported a network breach possibly affecting thousands of patients to HHS. And Vancouver, Wash.-based Rebound Orthopedics & Neurosurgery filed a notice of a data breach with the attorney general of Montana related to a February breach that left systems offline for weeks. 

The series of data breaches have spine surgeons thinking about their own cybersecurity measures.

"Cyberattacks have become a significant threat to the healthcare industry," Emeka Nwodim, MD, of Bethesda, Md.-based Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, said. "These threats often pose substantial financial risk to both small and large healthcare institutions. At CAO, there are multiple measures being implemented to try to safeguard our systems, with the understanding that there will always be risk. I believe the primary focus should be educating our members and staff on corporatewide compliance protocols and policies to help avoid scams."

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