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What If?

February 25, 2008
by Charlene Marietti
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Planning for potential disasters strains technology budgets and stretches overworked staff members

Unlike most mainstream businesses, financial considerations are not the first thing most care provider organizations think about during a crisis. In the midst of a disaster such as a massive power outage, a disease outbreak or the havoc caused by a natural act, providers focus on one thing only — and that is how to deliver care during the disruption. With the exception of battlefield medical conditions, clinicians still need essential services — electricity, medications and, increasingly, access to digitized data.

When the care providers surveyed for “Trends in Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Technologies” were asked how they would rate their organization's preparedness for a disaster, epidemic or other type of unexpected business interruption, nearly half rated their care provider facility less than well prepared. Although hospitals have achieved a higher state of readiness than ambulatory care clinics and physician offices, many acute care facilities lack comprehensive plans for continued operations in the event of a disaster.

Risks might be the result of a natural force, poor planning and management or result from personal attacks. For some organizations, risks may be tied to geography. Care providers located along the West Coast's San Andreas Fault, for example, live with the risk of earthquakes.

Two disasters within the past few years stand as sentinel reminders. They were on such a grand scale, so totally unexpected and unimaginable that few ever considered the risk, let alone the effects. The first were the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They awakened the nation to its vulnerability. The second was much more personal. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 23, 2005, it verified experts’ fears concerning the state of Louisiana's levees, exposed laxity and incompetence in emergency planning and management, and focused national attention on the inadequacies of its infrastructure.

Like other businesses, most healthcare organizations were caught off guard by the hurricane. But even as care providers continued to care for the ill, the wounded and the distraught, they were seriously hampered by lack of access to patient records, especially medication records. Patients suffered. Some died. And some healthcare provider organizations were so destroyed that they are unlikely to ever resume operations.

As Sept. 11 became the pivotal event that caused the nation to pay attention to security, Hurricane Katrina drove home the value of computer-based records and offsite data backups.

Model scenarios can be generated by scientists, epidemiologists, and other domain experts, but they lack organization specificity. Well-prepared organizations have performed a business impact and risk analysis process to evaluate possible threats and assess the potential impact, and then developed a comprehensive business continuity plan.

Technology is an essential component of these plans, but it also presents a challenge. Costs for data backup and recovery technologies and services represent significant investments. And although no one doubts the need to keep fast-growing mountains of data safe, secure and available no matter what happens, adding redundancy often gets relegated to a future time when there is more money in the budget and more staff members to do the work.

More information about “Trends in Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Technologies” is available from Vendome Group at http://www.vendomegrp.com/research or by calling (212) 812-8439.

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