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NHB Pharmacy Weathers Cyberattack

01 March 2024

From Douglas Stutz

Calm seas do not a Sailor make.Nor when roiled by a national network outage.Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Pharmacy team has actually weathered a few storms over the past handful of years, yet still continues – then as now - to safely process prescriptions for those in need.Whether during an extensive construction project, initially installing a new
Calm seas do not a Sailor make.

Nor when roiled by a national network outage.

Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Pharmacy team has actually weathered a few storms over the past handful of years, yet still continues – then as now - to safely process prescriptions for those in need.

Whether during an extensive construction project, initially installing a new Defense Health Agency electronic health record, or helping stop the spread of COVID-19, NHB’s Pharmacy commitment to patient safety and access to healthcare has remained on course.

NHB and other DHA pharmacies continue to navigate their assigned sea lanes a week after a reported cyberattack on the nation’s largest commercial prescription processer, Change Healthcare, altered the normal flow of operations.

“The attack temporarily halted our procedures before a solution was found both by our staff and DHA Pharmacy Operations Division. DHA POD worked tirelessly with our staff to find solutions to ease the burden and ensure that prescriptions could continue to be processed,” said Cmdr. Dean Kang, Pharmacy Department head, citing that NHB’s Pharmacy team utilized DHA-recommended downtime measures to allow prescriptions to continue to be processed by NHB’s internal systems in place.

“Despite the interruption, we are still providing and processing outpatient prescriptions. Patient safety and access to healthcare are our highest priorities,” stated Kang, noting that the cyberattack was certainly inconvenient at the onset for staff as well as patient, but wasn’t a showstopper.

“It’s a challenge just like any other challenge that current network and information system assets can bring. Pharmacy operations are complicated. We rely on several hardware and software systems to work properly in order to provide efficient care to our patients and to utilize technology to provide the safest clinical checks and appropriate verification for all prescription orders,” Kang explained.

Taking on the challenge also meant mitigating complications.

“We hate seeing patients wait just as much as anyone else. We have to make sure patients are getting the right medications safely and appropriately,” said Kang. “Working with technological difficulties that are out of our control is demanding as we ensure all our patients get their medications in a timely manner.

Kang attests that patient operations are mostly back on track at this point.

“Our patients can continue to request medications to be filled or come into the pharmacy lobby and pull a ticket as they normally would,” said Kang. “The only thing possibly different is there may be some additional wait times in our pharmacy lobby or refills may take longer than our normal 48 hours to get to the Jackson Park Refill Annex.”

“At this point, pharmacy staff have found a way to get operations back up to near normal speeds so patients should not experience extreme delays,” added Kang.

NHB’s main pharmacy has nine pharmacists and 31 staff members who are also assigned to inpatient, outpatient, supply, and clinical teams along with Family Medicine and Internal Medicine clinics. They provided in calendar year 2023 a total of 329,087 outpatient prescriptions.

“[That’s] Hard work and devotion to patient care. All of our staff have taken on the responsibilities of this job. As someone working the front line with every tech and pharmacist every day, I know their commitment is to the safety and health of our patient population,” stated Kang.

Kang also recommends for every patient getting prescriptions at NHB or the David R. Ray Clinic on Naval Station Everett to use the Q Anywhere system where someone can use their cell phone to text the words ‘Get in line’ at 1-877-909-2512 to start the process and save themselves time.

“Additionally, they can get their medications sent to the ScriptCenter machine in order to avoid long waits for pick up,” Kang said.

ScriptCenter usage is number one in DHA - with approximately 1,170 prescriptions per week across all NHB clinics and over 825 prescriptions per week at NHB main pharmacy.

“Anecdotally, patients love it. It eliminates the wait in the main pharmacy lobby and allows patients to come and pick up medications 24/7/365,” shared Kang. “A quick text through Q-anywhere allows patients to interact with our pharmacy staff via text message and phone call and gives us the flexibility to take care of patients remotely while also avoiding unnecessary waits in our lobby.”

Although NHB’s Pharmacy might currently take longer than usual to safely fill prescriptions needs and it’s unknown when this issue will be resolved, Kang avows that clinical checks are being done and prescriptions are being safely and securely processed.

“I am truly grateful for our pharmacy “phamily” for remaining resilient in light of technological difficulties and finding solutions to help our patients as quickly and safely as possible,” remarked Kang.

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