A Surgical Device Shut Down Mid-Heart Surgery for a Scheduled Virus Scan
Five minutes of downtime at the worst possible moment.
Image: GettyJEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP
For five long minutes during a heart surgery in February, surgeons paused to reboot a crucial piece of medical equipment that zonked out for the most banal of reasons: It was running its scheduled hourly anti-malware scan.
The surgery in question was a cardiac catheterization and ultimately it went off without any harm to the patient, per a report on the incident filed with the Food and Drug Administration. But the incident with the Merge Hemo device, used to gather data during such surgeries, shows the danger of relying on machines in touch-and-go medical settings. In this case, the manufacturer found that it wasn’t a malfunction that led to the scare, but rather the hospital’s configuration of the anti-virus scan settings. In other words, like most computer problems, it came down to user error.
Maybe a close call isn’t such a bad thing, in the grand scheme of things; any hospital using the Merge Hemo and similar devices will be all the more alert to their settings. But imagine being the doctors and PAs at that table when the Hemo went black. It’d be enough to give someone a heart attack.