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Medical software crashes during heart surgery


Oregon patients may know that computer systems and robots are being used in some surgical procedures. A medical device called Merge Hemo is sometimes used to help doctors perform heart surgery. While connected to the tube that is inserted into a patient’s veins and arteries, the device sends data back to a computer program while surgery is being performed.

In February, a heart surgery involving Merge Hemo was delayed when an anti-virus scan caused a computer to crash in the middle of the operation. In order to access crucial data that they needed to perform the operation, doctors had to reboot the computer. After five minutes, the computer software was up and running again.

Though the patient was unharmed as a result of the software malfunction, the incident with Merge Hemo put the patient at risk. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the hospital installed the anti-virus software on its computer incorrectly. The hospital should have configured the anti-virus software to scan for potentially vulnerable files without interfering with medical images and patient data. Instead, someone had programmed the anti-virus software to run a scan once an hour.

Surgical mistakes do not always take the obvious forms of operating on the wrong body part or leaving a sponge inside of a patient after a procedure. In some cases, the data produced by a computer can be interpreted in the wrong way or, as was the case here, the computer can be programmed incorrectly. If a patient is harmed due to this type of an error, a medical malpractice attorney could suggest that a lawsuit be filed against the practitioner or facility seeking appropriate damages.