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Disaster Recovery: Keeping Up With Technology

August 28, 2012
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As technology changes, so should disaster plans

As Hurricane Isaac gets ready to bear down on the Gulf Coast, I’m reminded of Hurricane Katrina a scant seven years ago, and how important it is for hospitals to keep their disaster plans current.

The good news is that advances in technology do help hospitals be prepared when it comes to protecting their electronic records. But implementing new technology puts demands on the hospital system as well, because it can affect how an organization reacts to a disaster. As a result, disaster planning has to be constantly updated to reflect technology changes.

That’s the view of Jeff White, a principal at Aspen Advisors who is responsible for advanced technology services. He notes that many multi-hospital systems he works store their data in multiple locations, purely for the purposes of disaster recovery and business continuity. Many of the core electronic health records that are being implemented today are replicated in real time or close to real time, he says. “That presents an opportunity for a robust disaster recovery or business continuity kind of architecture, because there is no loss of data,” he says.

White says that disaster planning is typically a top-down process, and is inclusive of the clinical and business units in the hospital. “It has to be, because those are the consumers of the technology and should be brought into the discussion to talk about what their requirements are,” he says. Those requirements need to be balanced against cost—what the organization can fund.

The IT department should be the implementer, responsible for putting in place plans about how to make technology investments and architect things in a way that will satisfy the requirements of the clinical and business stakeholders, he says. IT also should lead the effort to educate the clinical and business executives on capabilities and potential costs of the project, he says.

But technology changes are really only half the story. Disaster plans need to evolve to keep up with any changes in technology—whether hardware, software, data communications or wiring of a network, he says. “Once the disaster is declared, they may react differently because the technology has changed. If they don’t have that documented, it becomes  more difficult for them to react once the disaster happens,” he says.