Jokes about forgetful doctors leaving scalpels inside their patients’ guts are becoming cliched now. In today’s “connected” world, where technology is fast replacing jobs, computers too can cause unthinkable goof ups. In a rare turn of events, an antivirus software scan almost cost a patient’s life recently during a highly-sensitive medical surgery in the US.
Generally, an antivirus software is supposed to protect a device from malwares and increase its efficiency. In this case though, the antivirus caused an almost-fatal incident by forcing a computerized medical device to crash in the middle of the cardiac surgery.
Although it took place in February, the incident only surfaced recently in the news waves when Softpedia published a news piece about it. A report was filed to the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) for investigation and other online media quickly picked up the story.
According to reports, the antivirus software hindered the functioning of a medical device called Merge Hemo, an equipment that’s critical in its role for monitoring the real-time health of patients during cardiac surgeries.
Apparently, the hospital staff behind the operation of the machine had set-up the machine’s virus scan configuration cycle on hourly basis, which is against what the software vendor recommends. Following this, the antivirus software prompted a malware scan and caused Merge Hemo interface to freeze and eventually crash momentarily.
The FDA, in its report about the incident clarifies that it wasn’t Merge Hemo that malfunctioned, but blames the mistakenly pre-set configuration for it. “Based upon the available information, the cause for the reported event was due to the customer not following instructions concerning the installation of anti-virus software; therefore, there is no indication that the reported event was related to product malfunction or defect,” writes the FDA report.
It further notes, “The anti-virus software needs to be configured to scan only the potentially vulnerable files on the system, while skipping the medical images and patient data files. Our experience has shown that improper configuration of anti-virus software can have adverse effects including downtime and clinically unusable performance.”
The incident proved to be a narrow escape for the fortunate patient as the doctors were able to revive the crashed machine and complete the procedure successfully. The said medical procedure is reported to be catheterization, for which surgeons put a catheter inside the heart’s veins and arteries to diagnose any existing heart ailments. Such specialized surgeries have very little room for human neglect because they bear the risk of major impair in a patient’s health or fatal deaths.
Neither the Softpedia news nor the FDA reveal the hospital’s name or location involved in this case.