Healthcare Technology Featured Article

March 10, 2016

The Cost of Being Off-Line

Healthcare organizations rely on their IT systems to perform nearly all aspects of daily operations. From electronic records to health monitoring, healthcare facilities cannot afford to have system downtime. Each second that a healthcare facility is off-line means a possible damaged reputation, decrease in employee morale and loss of revenue.

Planned vs. Unplanned

There is a difference between planned downtime, which occurs on a scheduled basis with knowledge and a plan of action, and unplanned downtime, which happens suddenly, disrupting the flow of operations. Planned versus unplanned downtime is handled differently, but both disruptions require a strategy to minimize confusion and disruption amongst employees and patients. 

Planned system downtime is mandatory in all IT environments to perform updates, patches and general system maintenance. IT departments typically handle these downtimes during low-impact operational hours, which in a hospital setting can be challenging. Notifying all affected personnel of the scheduled downtime with specific instructions on the course of action to take during the downtime is imperative to minimize frustration and overall impact on patient care.

Unplanned system downtime is usually caused by a system or environmental failure. Nearly every healthcare facility has experienced unplanned system downtime, and the amount of chaos that ensues depends on how prepared an organization is to handle system interruptions.

Since there is no way of getting around either planned or unplanned system downtime, all organizations must develop an action plan and communicate the plan effectively with the entire team. Each department will experience interruptions to operations in a different way. Healthcare facilities should analyze the effect on each department ahead of time, develop an action plan that speaks directly to each department and provide instructions detailing how each department should proceed during downtime.

Cost of Downtime

Many studies have been performed to analyze the cost of downtime in a healthcare setting. The Ponemon Institute and Emerson Network Power conducted a study in 2013 on the cost of data center outages. What they discovered is that the average unplanned system downtime incident will cost healthcare facilities $627,418, with an average downtime of 86 minutes. Ninety-one percent of survey respondents reported an unplanned system failure in the last 24 months, and the largest dollar amount paid out was $1.7 million from a single incident.

In 2014 Erin McCan wrote an article for Healthcare IT News titled, “Healthcare’s slack security costs $1.6B.” The article states that 61 percent of healthcare organizations reported a data breach in 2013, amounting to roughly $1.6 billion spent nationwide on data breaches in 2013.

The amount of money spent on unplanned disruptions in a healthcare setting is astounding. Very few healthcare organizations invest in preventative measures until after they have experienced the effects of being unprepared for system downtimes and incur the exorbitant costs associated with downtime mishaps. Most organizations must experience the effects of system downtime before they are prompted to implement planned updates and to put procedures in place for dealing with unplanned disruptions.

Methods to decrease downtime

No system is fail proof, but measures can be taken to reduce the likelihood of experiencing an unplanned system failure:

  1. Schedule regular system updates, patches and general maintenance. When software and operating systems (OS) provide an update or patch, it typically means that there is a security risk. Holes can lead to system vulnerabilities, and is often the entry for hackers. As software and OS vendors become aware of holes, patches are released to fix vulnerabilities.Additionally, improvements to software and operating systems continue to be made once the initial version has been released. Some updates are released to enhance system features, and improve overall performance.
  2. Regular communication with vendors to assist in developing and implementing a disaster recovery plan will help minimize the impact on medical chart retrieval and ensure that vital information will be restored to its original status once the system is back up and running. Placing trust in a reliable archival data storage provider and solution is one of the most important partnerships to effectively handle preparedness and mitigation. Partnering with the right storage solution provider should ease the burden of system management, not complicate the process.
  3. Implement a downtime drill to make sure everyone knows his or her role and to ensure that communication flows clearly, limiting frustration and disruption to patient care. Since healthcare facilities continue to become increasingly dependent on electronic systems, it can be difficult to knowingly shut down aspects of system operations to prepare for an unplanned event, however not being prepared can have lasting effects beyond the twenty minute downtime drill. Downtime drills should be performed on a regular basis, improving upon  protocol and action plans to minimize disruptions. Additionally, downtime protocol should be included in new hire training.

Healthcare facilities operate in a hectic and competitive environment. Physicians, nurses and administrative staff need to focus efforts on patient care and experience, not managing an IT system failure crisis. Demonstrating effective planning and partnering with vendors that continue to monitor and update systems will minimize the risk of losing revenue, valuable staff and damaging reputations.

About the Author: Leo Salvaggio is executive vice president of Dynamic Solutions International. Salvaggio has worked with a wide array of customers in the tech and storage space for over twenty years. For more information about Dynamic Solutions International or other inquiries about this article, please email Leo at mailto:[email protected].

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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