The Benefits of a Hosted EHR Solution During a Rural Natural Disaster

A hospital’s ability to accurately communicate and coordinate care is a key part of disaster preparedness, for both rural and urban healthcare facilities, states The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

In many natural disaster scenarios, rural communities and the hospitals who support those communities can often experience a disadvantage when it comes to communicating and coordinating care. A rural community’s remote location, coupled with other possible factors like dated travel and communication infrastructures, pose barriers most urban hospitals may not need to consider.

All circumstances considered, rural providers should take a closer look at how EHR hosting can help secure operations, and more importantly increase data integrity.

Secure Rural Patient Data with EHR Hosting

Rural hospitals can start effectively communicating patient data by working with an EHR hosting partner. Employing a third-party to host an EHR system can provide an extra level of disaster protection for all healthcare providers, especially those located in rural settings. According to Jason Hebden, MEDHOST Senior Manager of Managed Integration Services, rural healthcare providers should expect an EHR host to offer the following benefits:

Benefits of a Hosted EHR

1. Dedicated system management that removes pressure from internal IT staff.

From a general operations perspective, and even in times of disaster, when behind-the-scenes EHR tasks are managed externally it allows internal IT personnel to focus on more pertinent issues.

2. Improved recovery speed.

Having hosted EHR servers can usually result in faster recovery. During a disaster, responsibilities for full EHR system recovery lies with the hosted service provider. Keep in mind that throughout and after a disaster, a hospital’s dedicated IT personnel are likely to have additional system outages taking up their time. A multitude of competing internal IT needs can delay EHR recovery.

3. Remote data backup, storage, and resilience.

If a server room is flooded or destroyed in a fire and the data is not backed up in a remote location—on physical media, in the cloud, or replicated to a dual physical data center—that data will be lost indefinitely. Losing access to patient data during a disaster is something hospitals should avoid at all costs. Once local infrastructure is restored, being able to roll back to a source that was not impacted by a natural disaster event will save a hospital significant time and resources during recovery.

4. Redundancy in connectivity.

In some instances, a natural disaster can damage a rural community’s communication infrastructure. An EHR host may leverage multiple connection points to improve the probability of maintaining successful connectivity within a fragile network. If one point of connection fails, there will be another point to take its place.

5. Risk reduction.

Rural health providers’ disaster planning directed toward patient data security and accessibility is a matter of calculated risk. Healthcare data systems contained and managed on-premise require a good deal of resources during a disaster and are at even more risk, especially during times of uncertainty.

An EHR host can help a hospital save resources, lower risk, and also provide clear and documented answers to the following questions:

  • How much space do we have?
  • What mediums do we use for backups?
  • Are systems patched with the latest updates?
  • How quickly will we be back up?
  • What do we do while we are down?

Disaster Disadvantages in the Rural Setting

Rural areas that find themselves vulnerable to natural disasters and other potential mass casualty events must take a more communal approach to their disaster preparedness and response, states Paudel Bishow, the Chief Hospitalist at Holy Rosary Healthcare, a critical access hospital (CAH) in Montana. A community-centric reliance on fragile local infrastructures is one of the top reasons rural hospitals should consider offsite hosting and management for their EHR. When local networks fail, rural healthcare providers need reliable backup architecture.

Bishow’s 25-bed CAH is located in Miles City, MT, 145 miles from the nearest major urban area—Billing, MT. In both emergency and disaster scenarios, Bishow notes that precise coordination between EMS providers is integral for making sure patients get the specific level of care they need. He notes one of the best ways to achieve effective care coordination with EMS and other providers is through an integrated EHR that can ensure data integrity.

Geography, as well as infrastructural inadequacies, can place rural communities at a disadvantage during natural disasters; meaning they often need a bigger commitment from their community and providers.

Hospitals are the cornerstones for many rural communities. Leading up to, during, and after natural disasters, rural providers need to be confident in their EHR’s ability to help them effectively serve that community. Losing a locally managed EHR and the patient data stored within can create patient safety issues and additional risks. Recovering data from equipment that may have been severely damaged or procuring new equipment to restore data from offsite tape backups is a massive undertaking for hospital IT staff.

A hosted EHR solution can act as an added layer of protection and sustainability for critical patient data systems. By taking the burden of EHR disaster response and recovery off the hospital’s hands, an EHR host can help rural healthcare providers more effectively care for people impacted by natural disasters.

Further Reading:

Testimonial: Championing Patient Safety in the Eye of a Natural Disaster
White Paper: A Guide to Finding a Secure EHR and ED Hosting Service
Infographic: Inside the Brain Driving Your Hospital’s Body of Care

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