The Risk of Infected Devices

By: | August 1, 2013 • 3 min read

Ara Trembly is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Food and Drug Administration is warning makers of heart monitors, mammogram machines and other medical devices of the risk of those products being infected with computer viruses — which could endanger patients, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

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That increased danger to patients, of course, is a serious matter to insurers as well, since more problems may mean longer hospital stays, possible serious injuries or fatalities, and even costly lawsuits.

Noting that hundreds of medical devices have been infected by malware, the FDA has recommended that manufacturers submit security plans to help stop cyberattacks, according to the Journal. The FDA also told hospitals to be more vigilant in reporting cybercrime, which can be tough to detect.

Obviously, this is good advice for insurers as well, but it appears most insurers are well aware of attempts — both successful and unsuccessful — to infiltrate their systems.

During a recent panel discussion I moderated at IASA, it was obvious that both panelists and attendees were sensitive to the issue and, whether they wanted to publicly admit it or not, knew of or worked for companies that had been hit.

Unfortunately, hospitals and insurance companies are much less likely to share information about being hacked, because it tarnishes their reputation for safety and security. Thus, it is safe to say that many such attacks on hospitals and insurers go unreported.

The introduction of malware into medical devices themselves, however, brings a whole new dimension to the growing problem of cybersecurity.  Malware in critical medical systems is suspected to be widespread, according to the Journal.

At one New Jersey facility, malware infected computer equipment needed for procedures to open blocked arteries after heart attacks, it reported. In another case, a computer virus caused a hospital machine to potentially expose sensitive patient data by sending it to outside servers.

The same article pointed out, quite correctly, that high-tech devices can remain in use for many years and that they are likely, at some point, to run out-of-date software — or software that is more vulnerable to attack than newer versions might be. Even “inadvertent” infections may temporarily render a device ineffective because the virus robs the device of processing power.

What can be said from an insurance point of view? It may be that health insurers will price risks differently based on the perceived vulnerability of a hospital or other facility. That vulnerability will be directly affected by technical reports, bulletins and news reports on the devices used at any given facility, as well as by the age of the software in each device.

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A hospital’s overall security profile may also be a key in the pricing picture. According to the Journal, many problems resulted from vendors using infected thumb drives to update device software. This pointed to a very obvious conclusion: Any device that interacts with a facility’s critical systems — even something designed to update security — must be tested to ensure that no malware is downloaded, even by accident.

It seems very likely that insurers will want health care facilities to demonstrate a clear, good-faith effort to bolster online and onsite security, including frequent updates and checks for out-of-date software. But can we really require such detailed examinations of facilities? The real question may be whether or not we can risk not requiring them.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]