Five Ways to Help Lead Your Medical Practice through a Challenging Time

July 29, 2014

Recently we suffered a multi-part network crash at our medical practice. Here are some of the lessons I learned while helping my practice deal with the disaster.

Recently we suffered a multi-part network crash at our practice of four locations, 20 providers, and 180-plus staff that prevented access to our EHR and practice management system.  The first few hours were tolerable as these things happen from time to time but then the magnitude of the problem became larger as more and more vendors had to be involved.


I won’t bore you with the technical details but let’s just say the problem involved the server, network, firewall, router, etc.  The total down time was four and a half days - four times longer than our longest ever outage.   A lifetime for a medical practice.  

It is times like this that physicians and other practice leaders have to step up - whether they like it or not.

Here are some of the lessons I learned while helping my practice deal with the disaster. I hope they come in handy should you ever face similar circumstances:

1. Stay focused and calm
. As the old ER saying goes, “The first pulse you check in an emergency is your own.”  Don’t get emotionally bogged down by worrying about what could happen, focus on what you can do.  You are useless if you join the panic.  Stay focused on the objectives not the emotional reaction of your staff.  Acknowledge it but keep moving!  Believe or not, some people don’t handle stress very well (wink).

2. Communicate, communicate, and communicate!  Nothing instills fear like not knowing what is happening.  Information voids will always be filled with rumors and conspiracy theories.  Even if it is a simple update of, “We're still working on it,” go ahead and let people know.  At my practice, we kept staff calm and in the loop through e-mail, texts, phone calls, and overhead announcements.  I would have used smoke signals or Morse code if I had to.

3. Remember data is everywhere.  Look for alternative information to continue safely seeing your patients.  No med list, call the pharmacy;  no lab results, call the lab vendor (or in our case, use another computer system for the in-house lab).  Most of what we do with patients is still the familiarity we build over multiple visits, not just the numbers.

4. Keep you management team focused.  They are on the front lines with you getting hit with anger and frustration from staff and physicians.  Meet with them and give them time away from the heat when needed.  Use them to be your eyes and ears to see where your more stressed staff and physicians are, and then move resources to that area.

5. Don’t be above bribery.  During trying times, pull out all the stops. We bought pizza, doughnuts, candy, and coffee for staff and physicians.  Anything you spend is well worth it!

After many vendors and many long hours, we were able to bring the network back up.  We didn't lose any data, and all of our paper notes were eventually entered into the EHR and processed to our practice management system.   We lost less than 15 percent of our monthly revenue due to this event, and the good news is I think I only aged 10 years in four days.