NPR, July 26, 2017
Lauren Silverman


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In the neonatal intensive care unit of Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, a father is rocking a baby attached to a heart monitor. While doctors roam the halls trying to prevent infections, Chief Information Officer Theresa Meadows is worried about another kind of virus.

"The last thing anybody wants to happen in their organization is have all their heart monitors disabled or all of their IV pumps that provide medication to a patient disabled," Meadows says.

Meadows manages IT and cybersecurity for nearly 7,000 employees at more than 50 locations in Texas. After co-chairing an evaluation of hospital cybersecurity across the U.S., she says there's a lot to improve.

Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, agrees. "Health care has traditionally underinvested in information technology," Halamka says.

Halamka, who has been a CIO since the 1990s, says just a decade ago, pretty much all health records were paper. Then, in a period of a few years, hospitals switched to electronic records. But the security of digital health data has not kept up with its growth. Other industries, like financial services and the federal government, have devoted more than 12 percent of their IT budgets to cybersecurity. Health care averages just half that.

At the same time, the cost of mitigation has soared, with the average breach costing $355 per stolen record for health care organizations. And hackers have gotten creative. Back in 1997, Halamka says, the threats he faced were students trying to hack the network.

"In 2017, what threats do I face? State-sponsored cyberterrorism, organized crime and hacktivism."

It's no wonder demand for cybersecurity talent in health care has exploded. But it's not that easy to recruit. [...]

health care finance health information technology medical safety public health regulation