Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, electrical outages, terrorism - these disasters can have an immediate and lasting impact on medical practices and their patients. More and more doctors are realizing that electronic medical records (EMR) not only optimize operations, reduce costs and improve care - but also serve as an invaluable disaster recovery solution. The backup and recovery of data from EMR solutions can make the difference in saving practices and saving lives.

According to government studies, two out of five companies that experience a disaster go out of business within five years. If disaster strikes a medical practice, the practice administrator must ensure that business continues in an efficient manner. Downtime means delayed or inaccessible medical records, which impact patient safety and satisfaction, the practice's reputation as well as decreased revenue and productivity. Additionally, HIPAA mandates contingency plans for practice disasters including backup, storage and recovery.

My own pediatrics practice in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, was ruined by Hurri-cane Katrina. The entire town was devastated. For the next month, my family and I stayed in Birmingham, Alabama. Although the office was destroyed, my patients had scattered and I was miles away; I was still able to access patient records through my EMR system. This story contains valuable lessons for medical practitioners and, more broadly, business owners of any sort.

A Real-Life Example

My EMR system from eClinicalWorks provided access to patient records, history, prescriptions, lab results and other critical information. The day before the storm, I transferred my EMR data from the office server to a Tablet PC. Because of eClinicalWorks' backup, storage and recovery capabilities, the patient files were with me the entire time. With the start of the school year, our families needed their children's medical and immunization records. I can access the data for patients who are now scattered across the whole country. I can't imagine if I was still using paper records. The files would have been lost or destroyed in the hurricane.

Disaster recovery, streamlined workflow, increased doctor efficiency, clinical data collection and decision support are one side of the coin. The other side includes reducing costs of transcription and staff. A truly valuable EMR also addresses coding, reimbursement management and payor interactions to help drive practice profitability.

How do you design a disaster recovery plan? The first step is to perform a business impact analysis: determine the value of your technology applications and data, evaluate the amount of disruption different event scenarios may cause and predict how such disruption will impact the practice. From this analysis you can determine the nature of the required disaster recovery solution.

Plan of Action

For the most critical data, your practice should consider an EMR solution that provides replication and remote storage to ensure accessibility, quick recovery time and minimal risk of data loss. With data replication, information can be copied to a remote data storage system. Consider a secondary data center to provide failover. Failover guarantees that information requests from the disabled primary data center are redirected to a secondary data center. Maintenance of a secondary data center will require additional hardware and software costs. Another option is a hosted service, which handles all aspects from storage to maintenance for a monthly fee. Once you've developed and implemented your disaster recovery plan, test it. Beyond the technology, make sure your key personnel have logistical plans should your physical office be closed or impacted. 

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