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Medical Practice Tales from a Thunderstorm


This doctor shares her experience from a terrible thunderstorm and what happens when IT systems go down.

Instead of prepping my notes for today, I am spending this morning writing.  Why? Because yesterday a thunderstorm took out our network. 

One computer died completely.  We have no internet connection, no network connection.  This happened around 3 p.m. yesterday, right before we started up with our afternoon patients. And IT couldn't fix it remotely.  Fortunately, when the storm started, I had my staff print out the afternoon's schedule. 

At least we knew who was coming, but we had no charts, which meant no lab results, no medication list, and no prior weights. At least, I had prepped my notes ahead of time, so I sort of knew the general status of the patients.  One was here for a thyroid biopsy and I didn't need her chart for that.  The other hadn't had labs done anyway and had no new issues.  So we survived yesterday although I still need to chart on everyone when we are back up and running.

Yes, I said "when" we are back up and running.  It is 7:55 a.m. now.  We are supposed to start at 8.  The IT person is supposed to arrive at 8.  There are already two people in the waiting room.  We can certainly see patients but this is going to be a challenging day. We have no access to our schedule.  We are going to have to rely on patients to tell us as they get here the time of their appointment.  We are going to have to call the labs to have results faxed to us.  We are going to have to write notes the old-fashioned way.  We are going to have to write prescriptions and lab slips instead of printing or e-scribing.  And at some point, all of this is going to have to be put in the EHR. 

We are giving the patients the option of staying or being rescheduled.  Depending on what time this gets fixed, I may need to schedule a "make-up" day on a weekend or something. We will see what happens.

(Editor's note: This second part was written three weeks later)

So I started writing this one morning three weeks ago.  That day, IT was able to get the system back up and running (mostly) by 10 a.m. By then, each physician had already seen eight patients.  We survived the day.  Then we had to enter everything that hadn't been entered that morning and the preceding afternoon.  This made for a really late day. 

To add to this, the security system kept going off.  So I had to call the security system company.  They sent a technician out right away.  Turns out, an electrical panel (ok I don't really know what it's called) was fried from the storm.  He had to just shut down the system, otherwise the alarm would be going off all day and night until it was fixed. 

So far, the known damage from the storm was a PC, a scanner, a firewall, a network switch and the security system.  I'm pretty sure some shingles were damaged and I'm waiting for the roofer to get back to me on that.  It's been several thousands of dollars both on material and labor to replace what was damaged.  Good thing we have insurance.  I've never had to put in a claim before and this has been a learning experience.  I am submitting invoices as they come.  I am waiting to see what comes of that.

Physicians, natural disasters are an unstoppable headache that you will eventually have to deal with in your practice - you should always be prepared. Insurance is a must and make sure you have a plan if your IT systems go down.


I wrote the above before Harvey and Irma.  My experience pales in comparison.  Having lived through Hurricane Sandy, I know some of the difficulties they must be experiencing.  My thoughts and prayers are with those affected.

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