A heart patient undergoing a medical procedure earlier this year was put at risk when misconfigured antivirus software caused a crucial lab device to hang and require a reboot before doctors could continue.
The incident, described in an alert issued by the Food and Drug Administration, highlights the darker side of using computers and computer networks in mission-critical environments. While a computer crash is little more than an annoyance for most people at home or in offices, it can have far more serious consequences in hospitals, power generation facilities, or other industrial settings.
The computer system at issue in the FDA alert is known under the brand name Merge Hemo and is sold by Hartland, Wisconsin-based Merge Healthcare. It comprises a patient data module and a monitor PC that are connected by a serial cable. It's used to provide doctors with real-time diagnostic information from a patient undergoing a procedure known as a cardiac catheterization, in which doctors insert a tube into a blood vessel to see how well the patient's heart is working.