An academic study found that the death rate tied to cardiovascular issues increased in the months and years following healthcare cyberattacks on hospitals.

In a report available for download through the Wiley Online Library, researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Central Florida used a difference‐in‐differences regression to analyze the effect that healthcare cyberattacks had on the quality of medical treatment received by patients at victim medical organizations. They specifically measured “hospital quality” by analyzing the time between when patients suffering from cardiovascular issues first entered a facility and when they received an electrocardiogram. The study also tracked the mortality rate associated with acute myocardial infarctions, the medical term for heart attacks.

The researchers found that hospital quality suffered as a result of a data breach. Specifically, they found that hospital time-to-electrocardiogram increased as much as 2.7 minutes and that 30‐day acute myocardial infarction mortality grew by 0.36 percent over a three-year window following a security incident.

The Human Impact of Healthcare Cyberattacks

This study helps shed light on the types of risks that healthcare cyberattacks pose to patients. Mortality is the greatest consequence of these types of security events. Dr. Sung J. Choi, a researcher from the University of Central Florida who led the project, said in a session for the 2018 4A Data Security & Privacy conference that data breaches at medical organizations are responsible for causing 2,100 patient deaths each year, as Digital Guardian reported.

Even so, mortality isn’t the only repercussion. An Accenture survey found that a healthcare data breach on average resulted in digital criminals stealing about a quarter of affected consumers’ personal medical information. Fifty percent of those affected revealed that they then experienced medical identity theft, which subsequently cost them $2,500 out-of-pocket on top of their existing medical bills.

What Healthcare Organizations Can Do to Fight Back

Security professionals can help defend healthcare organizations against data breaches by cooperating with IT management to develop effective security measures and build incident response teams who can prevent security issues from growing into a breach. Organizations should also monitor all connected medical devices’ activity for suspicious behavior that might be indicative of an intrusion.

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