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August 21, 2014

Internet and Power Disruptions Can Cause Havoc with Electronic Medical Records

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Digital medical records are the future of medicine, and the Obama administration has made them a priority by throwing billions in federal stimulus money at the push for digital records. Yet, what happens to healthcare facilities when the power goes out?

Last week doctors at PIM Associates, a primary care practice in Philadelphia, found out what happens in that scenario. For several hours last week the practice lost connection with its electronic records when Practice Fusion, which makes software to help doctors track patients, had Internet connectivity issues.

But Practice Fusion's service was disrupted over two days last week because its data center provider suffered an outage, according to The Huffington Post (News - Alert). That prevented many of the 112,000 health care providers who rely on the company's software from accessing patient records, they noted.

“If you’re in an office that's completely electronic and the system goes down, you're flying blind,” Kelly Gallagher, a medical assistant at PIM Associates, noted. “It could be potentially dangerous.”

This is not the first time that electronic health records have suffered such a fate. Last August, an electronic health record system made by Epic Systems went dark for a day, preventing nurses and staff at clinics in Northern California from accessing patient information. Other systems also have gone down temporarily in the past two years.

This highlights one of the problems with electronic medical records. While they can be convenient and bring transparency, they rely on Internet access and power.

Healthcare facilities need to ensure that if they are using a cloud provider for their medical records, this provider has backup facilities so uptime is never compromised. In cases where this cannot be achieved, healthcare organizations need to have a backup cloud provider that can fill in when the primary cloud is compromised. This is what smart businesses do, and it is no less a good practice for healthcare organizations.

Also, healthcare organizations should take a page from business and invest in backup power. While the cloud is one point of failure, another is electrical outages. Uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) such as that offered by Minuteman Power allow healthcare organizations to keep electronic medical records accessible even when the power goes out.

Few people are arguing against electronic medical records at this point. But that does not mean that there are not still downsides. Service disruptions, whether from an Internet hiccup or from loss of power, are two challenges that every healthcare organization that uses electronic medical records must face.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson
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