Change Healthcare cyberattack leaves behind big lessons for dentistry

The Feb. 21 cyberattack on Change Healthcare has highlighted areas in healthcare and dentistry that need more attention and innovation.

Change Healthcare, a revenue cycle management subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group's Optum, was hit with a cyberattack Feb. 21 that affected dental, medical and pharmaceutical companies' abilities to process claims. UnitedHealth Group has begun restorating Change Healthcare's systems but said certain disruptions will persist into April.

The federal government has launched an investigation into UnitedHealth Group since the cyberattack, which the American Hospital Association called "most significant cyberattack" on healthcare in U.S. history.

Will Weider, CIO and senior vice president of Wausau, Wis.-based Aspirus Health, advised companies to strengthen their systems in case of future attacks, saying "Whatever you planned to spend to improve cybersecurity, double it."

Several dental leaders spoke with Becker's recently about the impact this incident will have on the industry.

Brion Long, DMD, called the cyberattack "a wake-up call" that underscores the need for more secure financial transactions in the dental industry.

"As we address these challenges, it is becoming apparent that the future might favor the adoption of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology," Dr. Long said. "Moving toward blockchain technology could mark a pivotal moment in achieving more secure financial interactions within the dental insurance industry and beyond."

Steven Freeman, DDS, described his office's experience with the cyberattack as a "complete disaster." He added that practice owners need to be more vigilant and realize that the dental industry is not immune to such attacks.

"It's required us to find and implement new companies that can be integrated into our systems and procedures, and each one of these new companies cost more than the ones we were previously aligned with," Dr. Freeman said. "We continue to have hiccups to this day, but things are starting to improve since finding these new companies."

Tamara Whitley, the co-owner and office manager of Whitley Family Dental in Dallas, told Becker's she recently increased her coverage for ransomware attacks in case of cybersecurity incidents in the future.

"Most practices don't realize they have probably about $50,000 to $100,000 in their malpractice insurance. You need more than that," she said. "The average cost is about $150,000 to 200,000 from what I've seen per incident to get your data back. I would be bankrupt. I cannot handle that kind of thing. This is what caused me to do that. I upped my plan. I know I could be hit, even with all the safeguards I've got in place. I'm not stupid. It can happen to anybody.

Mrs. Whitley added that the biggest takeaway from the Change Healthcare cyberattack is that dental practices need to partner with companies that will strengthen their systems and be able to help them continue operating smoothly if a cyberattack occurs.

"For me, this is a speed bump, not a big deal, but these other offices need to understand, one, what this has done to the industry, and two, where are you going to do business? How are you going to do business? You need to have a partner that can change on the dot," she said. "Partner with somebody who is going to be able to help you in a true disaster because that's what this was and it could have been really bad ... The impacts were huge, and the word just wasn't getting out there until after the fact. That is the number one lesson. Get a partner that has a true disaster recovery plan in place. You have to, I don't care how small you are."

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