Computer Virus Forces Hospital to Turn Away Patients

Dennis Faas's picture

A Georgia hospital was recently forced to turn ambulances away after their information systems were infected with a computer virus (malware). The problem meant staff were unable to process admissions quickly enough to cope with demand.

A spokesperson for the Gwinnett Medical Center said that while a malicious software infection is rare, this one in particular was more severe than any before it. The virus affected the center's two facilities, located in Lawrenceville and Duluth.

Hospital Admin Goes Back to the Pre-Computer Era

The computer virus infection forced staff to take the details of new patients by hand.

The virus appeared across the entire system and also affected communications between hospital departments. Some staff were deployed to physically carry messages and x-ray images that would normally be transmitted electronically.

The hospital remained open to emergency admissions, but patients with minor ailments were asked to visit other health providers instead.

Some ambulances were diverted to other hospitals where possible, with only "dire emergencies" admitted.

It's rare that a hospital would carry out such a large-scale diversion, but Gwinnett is a trauma center. That means that it needs to be able to respond quickly to some severe cases, such as car crashes, indicating that a backlog of admissions would be a particular problem. (Source:

Hospital Back to Normal

The virus was in place for two days after being discovered. Once it appeared to have been dealt with, officials waited another day to make sure it had not reoccurred and then returned to using the electronic admissions system. The facilities are now accepting all patients, as usual.

The hospital stresses that patient care for those admitted was not compromised "in any way, shape or form", adding that all patient records remain secure and intact. (Source:

External IT staff have been on site tackling the issue, but at the time of writing had not identified exactly what the malicious software was, nor how it got onto the system.

The computer virus appears to have spread rapidly, which is why officials decided to shut down the system in an attempt to isolate the problem and prevent it from spreading further.

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