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How Robocalls Are Threatening a New Health Crisis


Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 27 years experience.

How has your institute, or community, been affected by the robocall and spoof ID epidemic?

Robocalls can wreak havoc on our personal cell phones. But the consequences are grave when spam calls overwhelm a hospital's communication system. Read on to learn more about this new threat to public health.

How Robocalls Are Threatening a New Health Crisis

The onslaught of robocalls to our personal cell phones can be overwhelming. However, it is nothing less than chaotic when a phone system communicating critical health information is bombarded with spam. This is exactly what is happening in hospitals, cancer centers and research institutes around the country.

The Tufts Medical Center Incident

On April 30, 2018, Tufts Medical Center, in Boston, Massachusetts, received more than 4,500 calls between 9:30 am and 11:30 am. Imagine the impact of 37.5 calls per minute, for two nonstop hours, on the hospital’s communication system. Hospital administrators report many of the calls were identical and threatened deportation if personal information to confirm identity was not provided. Manipulative and threatening tactics are common in persuading vulnerable people into providing information that will be used for identity theft or fraudulent purchases.

H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute

Tuft isn’t alone in receiving these types of spam robocalls. Dave Summit, Chief Security Officer for H Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, testified in front of Congress about facing similar situations within the facility. Summitt reported the hospital recently received 6,600 robocalls over a 90-day period. These calls were described as “malicious” and appeared as though they were coming from within the hospital. The spam callers would attempt to manipulate hospital staff and patients into providing sensitive information.

Potential For Far Reaching Harm

Healthcare administrators around the country share concern over the risk, posed by spam robocalls, to public health and privacy. We can ignore robocalls to our personal phones, but this is not an option for hospitals and other institutions. It is feared hospitals will be unable to keep phone lines free during an emergency; leading to a potential health crisis.

Patients and caregivers face unique challenges in identifying spam calls. Robocallers spoof phone numbers similar to the numbers of familiar local health organizations. Therefore, people are more likely to answer a call believing it concerns their health or the health of a loved one.

Working Towards a Solution

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) receives over 200,000 unwanted call complaints per year, accounting for 60% of all agency complaints. In response, the FCC has implemented several public policy initiatives to address robocalls and ID spoofing.

Blocking calls

As of November 2017, the FCC now allows phone companies to block suspicious phone numbers, such as:

  • Numbers that appear to be from a trusted source (i.e. hospital) that is not actually the source of the call
  • Invalid phone numbers (i.e. numbers with non-existing area codes)
  • Numbers that have not been assigned to a provider
  • Numbers assigned to a provider but are currently not in use

Call Authentication Systems

The FCC has also called on the phone industry to implement a reliable authentication system with protocols to boost call-blocking services and expose spoofed calls. However, progress is slow due to the lack of punishment enforcement for carriers who fail to meet the new standards.

Reducing Unwanted Calls

When you get a new phone number, you may also receive unwanted calls intended for the previous number owner. Business and other legitimate callers lack needed information about phone number reassignments to avoid these calls. The FCC adopted rules to maintain a reassigned numbers database to help reduce the number of unwanted calls received.

Fines, Fines and Major Fines

According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, recent fines imposed on robocallers have been the largest in the agency’s 85-year history. The Truth in Calling Act of 2009 prohibits the transmission of misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud. Through the enforcement of this act, the FCC issued over $200 million in fines in 2018 alone.

Progress Can’t Come Faster

Progress in combating robocalls is slow to come. YouMail’s Robocall Index reported 4.7 billion robocalls were made in the U.S. in May, 2019. The technology used to make robocalls is cheap and easy, therefore, strategies to address the issue will need to be aggressive.

For more information:

FCC Caller ID Spoofing

Robocalls Wreak Havoc on Hospitals And Put Patients Lives in Danger

Caller ID Technology Made For Scammers

Hello! I am a nurse with over 20 years experience. I have had the privilege of working in a variety of settings and just as many roles. I enjoy writing about what I encounter in my own daily practice. If you enjoyed this article, check out my Allnurses.com blog.

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8 Comment(s)

Leader25, ASN, BSN, RN

Specializes in NICU. Has 37 years experience.

This article gives information I was not yet aware of,such as institutions getting robo calls, besides private citizens.

I have stopped answering my phone,but the spoofing can fool you easily,such as a hospital ID of an employer or friends number .

I have gotten calls at 2 am,8a ,all phones .They are good at it ,can sound legit.recently members of the church were getting text messages,requesting help with church related activities by asking for donations,..all false info.

When you register on the do not call list, it seems to get even worse.Call blocking does not always work,except on cell phones but it does not stop more calls.

So disgusting to be at their mercy.

Hoosier_RN, MSN

Specializes in dialysis. Has 27 years experience.

The dialysis clinic that I work at gets these calls constantly. We've been told, don't give out personal info. We don't have caller ID so we don't know who's calling

J.Adderton, BSN, MSN

Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 27 years experience.

Both are good examples, thanks for sharing. Both demonstrate the malicious intent of these calls.

I am a pharmacy tech and people are constantly complaining about robots calls ..something needs to be done because the frustration gets taken out on the staff!

kbrn2002, ADN, RN

Specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis. Has 25 years experience.

18 hours ago, Aw1992 said:

I am a pharmacy tech and people are constantly complaining about robots calls ..something needs to be done because the frustration gets taken out on the staff!

This is another unintended consequence. Many if not most people just don't answer and the legitimate calls like appointment reminders and notices from pharmacy that a prescription is ready are being missed because the assumption is it's yet another robocall when the calls originate from the automated system.

Gennaver, MSN

Specializes in Ortho, Med surg and L&D. Has 13 years experience.

I just got the "robokiller" app on my phone. It has the option to use "answer bots" to keep the robocallers on the line as long as possible with prerecorded answering hassles. I enabled that too, (because those phone bots are absolutely out of control.)

I don't really feel like my reply is completely appropriate here but, possibly justified to share the idea of using apps like the Robokiller and giving them a dose of their own rubbish.

Robokiller was created after the government asked the public for help with this phone issue and in 2018 it was revealed. I suspect there are more.


Edited by Gennaver

KCMnurse, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in Educator. Has 36 years experience.

I make it my business to keep scammers/robocalls on the phone as long as possible. I really feel for the elderly and lonely that they prey on.

Orca, ASN, RN

Specializes in Corrections, psychiatry, rehab, LTC. Has 25 years experience.

On ‎6‎/‎20‎/‎2019 at 5:25 PM, Hoosier_RN said:

We don't have caller ID so we don't know who's calling

It probably wouldn't matter if you did. Most of the numbers displayed are fake. A lot of spam callers are calling from another part of the country or even outside the US, but the number often shows as being in your area code, increasing the chances that you will pick it up. I have had these calls made directly to my work number, which isn't published. The spammers were probably using a sequential dialer, which just calls one number after another in consecutive order. One message on my work voice mail last week threatened me with deportation if I didn't call a certain number to provide them with a load of personal information.

I work inside a state prison.

Edited by Orca