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Does Your Medical Practice Have a Contingency Plan?


Given that a majority of practices use digital health records, a simple power outage can have grave consequences.

So you're using an EHR. All your notes, all the patient data, your schedule, your task manager, everything is neatly stored in your computer. It saves space, it saves time (for the most part), it's great. Until you lose power. Then what do you do?

The other day, I was in the middle of seeing my fourth or fifth patient of the day. I was waiting for his labs to be faxed over when the lights started flickering. Then they went out altogether. There was no rain, no lightning. I didn't know what caused the outage (I later found out an electrical pole had gone down about a block away). My laptop still had battery power and our server had battery backup too, so I was able to finish with that patient and one more before the server shut down.

We couldn't call patients to warn them because we had no access to their information. When patients arrived we told them they could wait or reschedule. (But who knew for how long? The power company said maybe three hours.) There was one patient who still wanted to be seen. He had his lab results in his hand, so we brought him to the room with the most daylight and I did what I could. Patients were calling with questions and requests to make appointments and my staff just took their names and numbers and promised to call them back once things were up and running.

So, lesson learned. As soon as the power goes, and before the server battery dies, someone has to write down the names and numbers of the next several patients. We need to gather as much pertinent information as we can about them to be able to have a visit. Granted, some things can't get done; we can't download insulin pumps or continuous glucose sensors, so we would have to manually review that information.

We work in an office condo complex, so there is no generator like there might be in a big office building or a hospital. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, after not seeing patients for four days, we hooked up a gas generator so we could power essentials, but we don't keep it at the office.

Fortunately, the power came back on after about an hour, so the schedule was only minimally disrupted. I don't know what we would have done if it had lasted much longer.

So, what is your backup plan in case of a power outage?

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