Hospitals & Facilities

Study: When one hospital is hacked, others are hurt, too

New research shows that cyberattacks affect more than just the hospitals they target.
article cover

Peach_istock/Getty Images

· less than 3 min read

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.

Cyberattacks around the country are wreaking havoc on the ground at targeted hospitals, but a new study shows that security breaches hurt surrounding providers, too.

The research published in JAMA on May 29 found that cyberattacks led to a decrease in emergency department (ED) visits at attacked hospitals and an increase in ED patients at nearby hospitals.

“When one hospital is attacked, the effect is not just limited on that hospital,” Rahi Abouk, co-author of the study and professor of economics at William Paterson University, told Healthcare Brew. “Other hospitals will be affected indirectly.”

This means, Abouk said, that hospitals should inform other providers in their region after a cyber incident to prepare for the influx of patients.

“There should be a mechanism that encourages hospitals, the attacked hospitals, to publicize these events at least to the nearby hospitals, making sure that they are ready to accept those excessive patients who are in urgent need for their emergency medical needs,” he said.

The researchers analyzed eight ransomware attacks that affected 15 hospitals in California from 2014 to 2020, and reviewed both ED visits and inpatient stays. While there was up to a 16% decline in ED visits to attacked hospitals, there was a 7% rise at surrounding hospitals, with the most impact seen in the first two weeks.

There wasn’t a significant change in inpatient stays at nearby hospitals, however, which Abouk said may be because procedures are often postponed during cyberattack recovery. 

Ransomware attacks on hospitals have been on the rise in the US since the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a 2022 study. In this study, researchers found that between 2016 and 2021, there were 374 cyberattacks at healthcare delivery organizations in the US, and that over that time, incidents doubled from 43 in 2016 to 91 in 2021.

Recently, cyberattacks at Ascension and another at Change Healthcare have greatly disrupted the industry, leading to problems with staff and patients, as well as delayed care and billing.

Going forward, Abouk and the study’s other author, David Powell, senior economist at research institute Rand, plan to collect more data and see if these trends have continued into more recent years. They are also studying the financial impact of cyberattacks on hospitals, as well as the effect on patients based on their health insurance.

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.