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Frontline Cancer: Health systems unite in fight against cancer and cyber threats

Dr. Scott Lippman
(File)

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required. … I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

— Hippocrates

In the span of one week, we witnessed the Janus of cyber events.

After a year of living virtually, we all looked forward to life slowly returning to normal, including a creative hybrid form of Padres Pedal the Cause that began May 8 when virtual classes, team rides, walks and other activities (gopedal.org) provided the impetus for participants to give 100 percent in the effort to raise vital funds for collaborative team science and deliver cures to patients with cancer here in San Diego and beyond.

We also saw the dark face of the internet when a challenging cyberattack hit our area.

As many people are aware, on May 1, Scripps Health was hit with a nefarious cyberattack that impacted many of its computer systems. While the Scripps team (and all of our hospital teams) train and prepare for these types of events, the impact is always resonant.

What many people don’t realize is how events like these bring health systems together (as I mentioned in my March 25, 2020, column at the onset of COVID and the PPE [personal protective equipment] shortage, when the La Jolla Institute for Immunology offered Moores Cancer Center a hundred N95 masks). The patient care business is a business, and there is competition. While there are some areas of shared resources, such as the California Protons Cancer Therapy Center, competition exists among UCSD, Scripps, Sharp, Kaiser, etc., and all of the hospital systems pride themselves on having very capable providers of excellent care.

However, when one of our fellow systems is challenged by something that threatens to impact patient care, the competitive mindset gets put aside and we all come together in the interest of patient care. It’s one of the fundamental elements of the Hippocratic oath that we, as medical providers, all swear to as part of our medical training: “I will not fail to call my colleagues when the skills [IT infrastructure in this case] of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.”

This is exactly what is going on with Scripps and UCSD since early May. And the success of our actions is mostly invisible to the patients and the community. While Scripps is focusing on bringing its systems back online, the cancer centers at both institutions are working collaboratively to ensure that patient care is uninterrupted.

The evolving science of oncology and detailed cancer treatment plans require precise implementation. Working together, Moores Cancer Center and Scripps have been able to ensure that no patient battling cancer is impacted by the computer attack. When patients need to be transferred, they are immediately accommodated. When physicians require equipment in a different hospital, they receive emergency credentialing so they can practice at the other hospitals.

All of these actions reflect the oath we all take to ensure that patient care comes first and competition comes second.

We applaud our colleagues at Scripps as they overcome a challenging attack. But more importantly, we applaud their commitment to patient care above all and the collaborative success that we have both achieved in ensuring that our oath to Hippocrates is respected and upheld.

And we applaud Padres Pedal the Cause for encouraging collaborative cancer research at Moores Cancer Center, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Rady Children’s Hospital and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute with the goal to increase survivorship and, ultimately, cures for cancer.

Padres Pedal the Cause has donated more than $13 million to fund more than 70 local cancer research projects, including six clinical trials and two team science awards. It provides funding for all types of cancer research, with grants awarded to fund both exploratory discovery research targeting specific cancers and universal studies that interrogate multiple kinds of cancer.

So while we enjoy the celebrations associated with this year’s successful virtual hybrid Pedal event, let’s continue to be mindful of the perils of our increasingly digital world and commit to the power of collaboration in overcoming obstacles.

By keeping our primary focus with the patients, both our successes and challenges unite us in creating a world without cancer, and cancer care as unique as the patients we serve.

Dr. Scott Lippman is director of the Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health. His column, “Frontline Cancer,” appears periodically in the Light. He can be reached by email at slippman@health.ucsd.edu.