EHR and Power Outages

July 25, 2016

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?

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

They were not able to call patients to warn them because they had no access to their information. When patients arrived, they told them they could wait or reschedule. (But who knew for how long? They were told by the power company that it may be three hours before power could be restored.) There was one patient who still wanted to be seen. He had his lab results in his hand, so they brought him to the room with the most daylight and they did what they I could do. Patients were calling with questions and requests to make appointments and the 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. It is important to gather as much pertinent information as possible about them to be able to have a visit. Granted, some things can’t get done; it is not possible to download insulin pumps or continuous glucose sensors, so those things have to be done manually in order to review that information.

If your practice is like this particular one, it operates 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 Super-storm Sandy, after not seeing patients for four days, this practice hooked up a gas generator so they could power essentials, but they 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 my clients 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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