A “virus” infected computers at three Michigan hospitals last fall and disrupted patient diagnosis at two of the centers in what appears to be the first such invasion of a medical computer, it was reported last week.
The infiltration did not harm any patients but delayed diagnoses by shutting down computers, creating files of nonexistent patients and garbling names on patient records, which could have caused more serious problems.
“It definitely did affect care in delaying things, and it could have affected care in terms of losing this information completely,” said Dr. Jack Juni, a staff physician at the William Beaumont Hospitals in Troy and Royal Oak, Mich., two of the hospitals involved. “It was pretty disturbing.”
If patient information had been lost, the virus could have forced doctors to repeat tests that involve exposing patients to radiation, Juni said. The phony and garbled files could have caused a mix-up in patient diagnosis, he said.
“This was information we were using to base diagnoses on,” said Juni, who reported the case in a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine. “We were lucky and caught it in time.”