How to Prepare Your EHR System for Disasters

The sirens are sounding.

Much of the city has evacuated, except for maybe the few brave souls who stick out to gamble with the weather. What is protecting your health IT? What will be left behind after disaster strikes for communities as they rebuild? You’re a trained healthcare professional busy saving lives every day. You’re prepared, but what if mother nature throws a curveball in your routine?

After a disaster has passed, even before it is tracked, it can often be too late. Emergency preparation for both your patients and their health information is a year-round priority.

Since hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires don’t pick and choose who they affect or to what severity, it is imperative that every facility should be prepared at all times to address situations where not only physical lives are at stake, but also when a downed EHR network could mean life or death. Not having a reliable and up-to-date plan to reinforce the healthcare data redundancy puts both your facility and patients at risk. The financial impact of a natural disaster could be in the millions.

The Financial Disasters

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence unleashed a fury of water and wind on the Carolinas and Georgia, devastating local communities and testing the resiliency of healthcare systems and hospitals across the region.

In North Carolina, 40 of the state’s 130 hospitals were in the direct path of the Category 4 hurricane. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency ahead of Florence’s landfall, calling for a rare “Mandatory Medical Evacuation” that affected healthcare facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes along the South Carolina coast. In total, more than 1,700 people were evacuated as a result.

In addition, 2017 was a historic year for natural disasters, with the cumulative damage of weather and climate disasters causing around $306 billion in damage—making it the most expensive year on record for disasters in the United States. In Texas alone, 92 hospitals reported around $460 million in losses following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Although the vast majority of that loss comes from facility damage, $48 million came from office closures, billing and claims disruption, delayed or unpaid insurance claims, and more.

A report from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) put Hurricane Florence damage estimates at around $24 billion, making it one of the U.S.’s top 10 costliest hurricanes. For reference, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost $192 billion and Hurricane Harvey cost $133 billion.

Effective disaster preparedness should anticipate and mitigate risk before disaster hits since emergencies flare up without warning. The healthcare industry is required under HIPAA to protect personal health information at all times, however proper preparedness and planning extends beyond managing compliance.

To avoid operational downtime and protect patients’ health information, many hospitals look to managed hosted service providers for simple, cloud-based services that offer tailored solutions to safeguard their data.

Managed IT Service Provider Disaster Recovery Plan

  • Custom solutions: Each organization is unique, which means a hosted service provider should build solutions tailored to the specific needs of your hospital. If downtime does occur, this flexibility can help get your hospital back up and running faster.
  • Affordability: Hosted solutions plans should feature 24/7 monitoring and management, 365 days a year. This helps make the expense of disaster recovery preparedness more affordable while simultaneously fortifying your IT system’s overall resilience. The cost of maintaining all hardware, operating systems software, and replication software should be included too.
  • Compliance: Recovering from extended outages or disasters within an acceptable time frame is required to avoid costly penalties and maintain compliance. Hosted service providers can help eliminate the burden of replication and failover responsibilities off of your hospital’s IT team, which expedites the recovery process.
  • Simplicity: Moving software to an EHR host means your internal IT teams will no longer spend hours patching, updating, and upgrading servers. In the event of a disaster, local IT staff on the ground can then make better use of their time by supporting clinicians with more freedom and flexibility. 

No matter the size of the facility, healthcare communities should prioritize disaster preparedness and recovery to the best of their ability. It’s not a question of if a disaster will occur, but when.

Ensuring operational continuity in the face of disaster is easier said than done. To learn more about prioritizing your hospital’s disaster planning and recovery strategy, download our brochure.

Further Reading:

Podcasts: Live from ACEP18 Emergency Medical Conference

Testimonial: Championing Patient Patient Safety in the Eye of a Natural Disaster

Podcast: How an EHR Can Help Weather the Storm

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