Healthcare and technology industries team up to fight robocalls

By | June 18, 2019

Leaders of the healthcare and technological industries are uniting against the dangerous effects of robocalls to hospitals.

Tufts Medical Center in Boston was overwhelmed on April 30, 2018, with more than 4,500 calls between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., said Taylor Lehmann, the center’s chief information security officer, according to the Washington Post.

Doctors, hospital administrators, and nurses struggled to keep up with the constant barrage of robocalls. Most featured the same voice threatening in Mandarin that the person on the other line would be deported unless they gave up their personal information.

The kind of call that most Americans find a simple nuisance began to prove troubling for the hospital staff and potentially dangerous for its patients.

The calls could not be blocked by through their telecom carrier, Windstream, leaving the hospital staff with few options.

“These calls to healthcare institutions and patients are extremely dangerous to the public health and patient privacy,” said New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has put forward legislation to try to mitigate the damages from robocalls. “The FCC and Justice Department need to go after these criminals with the seriousness and urgency this issue deserves.”

This is not the first time these kind of calls have impacted medical teams. When Congress adopted the government’s anti-robocall rule in 1991, one of the major reasons was the complaint that such calls were tying up emergency phone lines.

More than two decades later, the FCC used that authority to hand its largest fine ever — $ 120 million — to a Florida man who placed nearly 100 million robocalls during a telemarketing scheme.

Members of the telecom industry have said that they are investing time and money into finding better ways to trace the origins of these calls. From there, they will be able to provide law enforcement additional aid in their crackdown against phishing schemes and other similar kinds of attacks.

In an April hearing in front of the House Energy Committee, Dave Summitt, chief information security officer for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, elaborated on the threat that these calls provide to medical companies and hospitals, saying, “To amplify the extent of this problem, I am sharing data from our organizational phone system for the past 90 days. During this time period we received over 6,600 external calls identified as a Moffitt internal phone number consuming a total of 65 hours of response time. Also concerning is that in one recent 30-day period, over 300 calls were made to Moffitt Cancer Center coming from the Washington, D.C. area.”

He continued by saying that many of the calls from the Washington, D.C., area appeared to be from the Department of Justice.

As lawmakers continue to debate the best course of action, hospital staffs are now being trained in the best practices to take if they receive one of these robocalls.

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