EHR Downtime – What To Do When an IT Disaster Strikes

Image of a health care providers desk top, representative of EHR

Throughout the medical industry, there are six words you never want to have to say to a frazzled patient who made time in their busy schedule to stop by the office: “I’m sorry, our system is down.” When IT disasters strike, you lose access to appointment schedules, lab results, medical records, and more.

You’ve spent months training staff on utilizing their respective Electronic Health Record (EHR) – how do you cope with sudden system crashes that could last hours, days, or sometimes even a week?

What Are Electronic Health Records?

EHRs have become vital to both hospitals and physicians’ practices. They are a secure, electronic version of a patients’ medical and healthcare history and often include sensitive and personal data. The EHR automates access to information and streamlines the provider’s workflow, which is why IT crashes can be catastrophic in business operations. There is a significant risk of liability exposure if the clinical staff’s access to records is suddenly cut off and the clinician proceeds with treatment without access to relevant data.

In this blog post, we’ll detail some guidelines on preparing for a crash or loss of data and how to act moving forward. To learn more about IT best practices and how you can safeguard your business, download our Data Backup Strategy Guide.

Seek To Understand Why Your EHR Failure Happened

EHR outages often stem from either an internal hardware problem or an external source, primarily if the specific system is hosted in the cloud. Healthcare providers are required by the HIPPA Security Rule to have a contingency plan and sure data backups, so no critical information is lost in the midst of a system failure.

While it may take some time for a business to diagnose the problem, providers should expect a phone call when their system goes down for more than an hour. If you do not get a respective phone call, reach out to the helpdesk or your vendor’s representative to get some answers. Many vendors will provide their clients with a detailed disaster plan, so be sure to review the procedures and be familiar with steps that need to be taken.

While sorting through the issues at hand, the IT team should notify administrative and clinical staff that the systems are down, and patients should be similarly informed upon arrival.

Be Adaptable And Keep Things Moving

Providers are extremely dependent on electronic medical records and losing access to that kind of information adds to the complexity of the healthcare industry. Without access to crucial information, providers often have to turn to doing it the “old-fashioned way”. As an employer, ensure that your providers are versed in asking patients about relevant medical histories and recording the information prior to making any treatment decisions. Include imperative questions that must be asked at the beginning of each process.

Systems often include checklists for doctors and nurses, and without those lists, they have to rely on their training and experience to think through the treatment process. Certify that your doctors and nurses are adaptable not overly reliant on technology.

Develop A Process For Patient Intake And Scheduling

Administrative staff should have access to pre-approved paper forms in the event of an EHR crash. Intake staff may not have the opportunity to print out daily appointment schedules prior to the outage, in which case a paper sign-in form should be used to keep track of patient arrival. Blank encounter forms and charge slips should also be available, and new patients should be assigned a temporary medical record number until their official record can be created.

When notified that the system is back up and running, a designated staff member should complete check-in procedures for patients seen during the outage. Encounter forms, billing information, patient summaries, and other documentation should be sent out to clear the backlog.

Keep Clinical Documentation

Physicians need to be familiar with paper charts used during emergencies and what documentation is necessary to create a complete electronic record. Clinicians should take note to ask patients about allergies, medications, and recent procedures if such information is not available. Lab tests and pharmacy orders may need to be called in, faxed, or hand-delivered, meaning physicians need to decide which tests can be delayed until the EHR is functioning correctly.

When your system is back online and has been confirmed to be stable, a staff member should enter all clinical information into the proper charts by hand. Understandably, this can be quite time-consuming, so providers should designate a specific data entry person.

Practice For Potential Future Outages

Providers should invest time and energy toward performing routine downtime drills. Develop a training packet for staff to study, which encompasses essential questions for staff about their roles during an EHR outage. These questions should detail the procedures they will need to carry out by hand without a computer system’s aid.

Follow up and conduct routine tests to keep information fresh in your staff’s minds. Remember that practice makes perfect, and planning for an emergency is only useful if everyone knows the drill.

Safeguard Your Business Today

Instead of worrying over the loss of crucial patient information, you should be asking yourself, “How can we prepare for system outages?” If you take proper consideration and put the right motions into place, you’ll spend less time stressing over such a failure.

Thinking your data is safe is not the same as knowing it is. With the right IT partner by your side, you can gain peace of mind knowing you have a team of professionals managing, monitoring, and maintaining your IT systems to ensure operational continuity. Interested in outsourcing your IT security? Check out this blog post that covers the seven top reasons to consider outsourcing your cyber security, as well as tips for vetting potential IT security firms.