Sep 18, 2019

Millions of medical images are susceptible to hacks

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The medical records of more than 5 million Americans and even more people globally — including X-rays, MRIs and CT scans — are vulnerable targets to even the simplest cybersecurity threats, ProPublica and German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk found.

Why it matters: Because of the sensitivity of some of these records, patients face potential devastation if their images are hacked.

  • "Medical knowledge can be used against you in malicious ways: to shame people, to blackmail people," Cooper Quintin, a security researcher and senior staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told ProPublica. "This is so utterly irresponsible."
  • In some cases, a free software program or basic lines of computer code could access images and private data.

What they found:

  • More than 13.7 million medical tests in the U.S. were available online, including more than 400,000 from X-rays and other images that could be downloaded.
  • Large hospital chains and academic medical centers seemed to have better protections in place. Most of the cases of unprotected data the report found involved "independent radiologists, medical imaging centers or archiving services."

The bottom line: Patient data obtained by the health care industry has systemically had problems with hacking ever since it switched from analog to digital technology, including those stemming from basic human error or systems with known security weaknesses.

Go deeper: The pitfalls of electronic health records

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How some jails avoid medical bills through "medical bond"

The Santa Barbara County Detention and Correctional Facility. Photo David McNew/Getty Images

Sheriffs across Alabama are relying on what's known as "medical bond" to avoid paying for inmates' hospital bills, ProPublica reports.

How it works: Jails release the inmates from custody when they need medical care. This includes treatment that is only necessary because an inmate didn't receive adequate care while incarcerated. After they're treated, some inmates are quickly rearrested and head back to jail.

Go deeperArrowOct 1, 2019

Between the lines of Bernie Sanders' plan to eliminate medical debt

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Sen. Bernie Sanders released his 2020 plan to cancel $81 billion in existing medical debt, reform collections practices and change bankruptcy rules this weekend.

Why it matters: The proposal speaks directly to the issues of surprise medical bills and hospitals' lawsuits against patients — issues that have only recently entered the political lexicon.

Go deeperArrowSep 23, 2019

A major hospital system is building its own electronic health record

Northwell Health's teaching hospital in New Hyde Park, New York. Photo: Northwell Health

Northwell Health, one of the biggest not-for-profit hospital systems in the country, is planning to develop its own system for electronic medical records, with the ultimate goal of selling the technology to other hospitals and clinics.

Why it matters: Physicians, nurses and others generally dislike most of the existing electronic health record systems. But this is an unusually proactive effort from a hospital system to actually solve those problems.

Go deeperArrowOct 2, 2019