Eradicating failure and addressing the physicians fear of downed networks has become a hot topic of conversation in practices all over the country. With the greater dependency on technology, a paradox is presented that the consequences of a network failure can often be fatal to a small or medium size medical practice.
While system outages and disk failures can result in service hiccups and short work stoppages, larger hospitals or medical practices may have the resources to bounce back from a temporary disruption, and continue with business as usual, small practice don’t have this same luxury. For example, a virus may cost a small practice $30,000 to recover from. This may be such a significant fiscal blow, the practice may not be able to recover. For a hospital or large practice, this may be something very easy to overcome and in most cases, is unnoticeable.
For the past two decades, advancing technology has unquestionably enhanced the way we see our patients on a day to day basis. A stable, reliable and secure IT system means efficient operations and optimized productivity, service, and communications. It fosters greater opportunity to provide quality patient care. Today, through technology, small-to-medium sized physician practices anywhere can serve patients globally twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, which was unfathomable 5-10 years ago. In today’s healthcare world, anyone can be as big as they want to be.
I often talk about HIPAA compliancy, and disaster recovery plans. While the threat of data loss and downtime is acknowledged, ask a group of physicians how much they lose annually from network and system failure and you’re likely to be met with many blank stares and wild guesses. Perhaps they can sound off the hourly rate they’ve been charged for IT services, or what they’ve recently paid to repair or upgrade software and hardware, but very few can even venture to guess how much is lost in productivity, revenue, services and patient goodwill.
The Aberdeen Group (an IT research firm) recently projected the estimated annual cost of downtime to be $25,806 for every medical practice employing less than one hundred people. Is it any wonder why many smart physicians and practice managers these days aren’t sleeping soundly at night? They’re stressing over something they feel powerless to address – the stability and efficiency of their IT system and network. But you aren’t as powerless as you may think. Most IT system failures can be totally avoided, or reduced in severity, quite easily and inexpensively. All it takes is some risk assessment, a plan, proactive maintenance and the right sizing of your IT budget.
What Are You Doing?
Many practices don’t have a healthy fear of technology failure. Nor do they spend much time thinking about the true return on their IT investment. Physicians must ask themselves a few questions to determine if their practice can really afford the “status quo.”
How often is employee productivity and patient accessibility or service stalled each day from a downed network or system?
How much downtime can your practice truly afford and what kind of backup or recovery solutions are in effect when systems are unavailable?
What level of IT support can be accessed? Can it be accessed quickly enough to minimize damage? Are you confident that your practice can either be back online or be able to access lost patient data with minimal disruption no matter what?
Is your most critical data frequently backed up?
Are your systems truly protected from theft, hackers, and viruses? Are passwords to sensitive data changed whenever employees leave the practice?
When was the last time you tested backup processes to ensure they are working properly? How quick were you back up? Per HIPAA standards, you need to document this process.
What You Can Do
The first process you can put in place for eradicating failure is to make sure you have good, solid policies and procedures in place, and that your employees are trained on them. The second thing you want to do is PLAN. Plan for a disaster BEFORE the disaster. Create scenarios and document how you are going to handle them. Include natural disasters, hackers, thieves, employees stealing data, etc. Come up with a plan and document. Being proactive is the best way to prevent against a major failure.
Budget. Budget money for IT services. Sometimes out of site is out of mind. If you don’t “see” the hard drive, it will never fail. Not true! It WILL fail. Try to be proactive in refreshing your equipment and replacing out of date legacy systems. We are all in the habit of replacing equipment when we have to, however we fail to realize that when we do that, its too late. Proactive is the name of the game!