Healthcare News & Insights

Robocalls plaguing hospitals: How to respond

Robocalls aren’t just disturbing people on their personal phones anymore. Hospitals are increasingly becoming targets of robocall schemes, and it could make facilities more vulnerable to fraud. 

A recent article in the Washington Post discusses the phenomenon. Scammers will use machines to auto-dial numbers with pitches for products or ploys to steal personal info. As frustrating as it is when these calls regularly happen on a cell phone or home landline, it’s even worse for hospitals.

Over a mere two-hour period one morning, Tufts Medical Center in Boston received more than 4,500 robocalls on all its phone lines. The callers spoke in Mandarin of a fraudulent deportation, likely trying to scare immigrants into volunteering personal information.

Another facility, Florida’s H. Lee Moffit Cancer Center and Research Institute, received 6,600 calls in a 90 day period. Responding to these calls wasted an estimated 65 hours. The center also received an additional 300 scam robocalls where callers misrepresented themselves as representatives from the Dept. of Justice.

To make the calls look more authentic, robocallers often engage in a process called “spoofing,” where they use tech to make it appear that the calls were coming from local numbers in the hospital’s geographic area – the idea being that recipients would be more likely to answer.

While cell phone owners may ignore any unfamiliar number, even if it has the same area code, if a spoofed call comes through a hospital’s main phone line, staffers can’t ignore it. Since the number appears local, it could be coming from a patient in need of care. The scam element often isn’t uncovered until after someone’s picked up the phone.

Not only was dealing with these calls a nuisance, it also took administrators’ time away from more pressing hospital issues. In addition, many of the calls went through phone lines in patients’ rooms, and if they answered and believed the calls were real, it could’ve caused widespread panic and confusion.

On a more critical level, such a large volume of calls at once has the potential to tie up a hospital’s phone network, making it harder to communicate if an emergency strikes that could significantly impact patient care.

Lowering impact of robocalls

The feds say they’re ramping up efforts to find and punish robocall scammers, and telecom providers are doing what they can to help recipients identify certain types of calls as possible spam.

In the meantime, much of the burden of protecting a hospital’s network lies on the facility’s efforts itself. Reach out to your telecom provider to ask if there are any measures you can put in place to reduce the number of robocalls your hospital receives (including call blocking for suspected scammers).

Along with taking this step, it’s important to train staffers on how to recognize a scam call after picking up the phone. While some sound obviously fake, others may be more convincing and hard to spot (similar to certain email scams). Remind employees to never give out sensitive information over the phone and to request written confirmation of anything the person mentions.

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