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One moment all was “normal.” Or the “normal” that nurses and other clinicians, admissions and pharmacy staff experience each day.

But then the hospital gets an unexpected surprise. The patient rounds, the dispensing of meds, the patient intake, the normal things that happen every day, shift after shift, suddenly get the equivalent of a splash of cold water to the face.

The Healthcare Information System is down.

It happens to every hospital at one time or another. It could be planned or unplanned downtime.

If you have a reliable software-based downtime protection plan where you still have access to patient data even though the HCIS is down, then not much changes. Typical workflows can continue largely unchanged. If you don’t, then the word “downtime” alone may cause your heart rate to spike.

The ensuing scenario may look like this…

Step 1: Retrieve the patient data back-ups from where they’re stored

Sometimes, the daily printouts, or CD copies of patient information, are stored close by. Other times, they’re on the other side of the hospital. Let the 5K run/walk for the daily back-up of patient info begin. Thankfully, nurses and most hospital staff are smart enough (and practical enough) to wear comfortable shoes. It’s almost as if a gun goes off. Let the 5K race begin. Staff do a sort of run-walk. They want to get the patient info ASAP, but don’t want to scare anyone by actually running. They put the ‘everything is fine’ face while they speed to the storage room.

Step 2: Find the latest patient data

If the daily patient information back-up is on CD, then the scavenger hunt begins. Someone did update last night or early this morning, right? OK, can’t think about that right now. If staff printed the patient info on paper, then it’s time to start digging.

Step 3: And, back to the unit

This was not part of the plan when the day started. When someone has to move this fast, they’re usually wearing workout clothes. The staff member heads back to the unit doing the speed walking thing. Nothing to see here, just getting a bit of cardio here while carrying a stack of patient medical records.

Step 4: Transition to a more manual way of working

Now it’s time to get back to work. Only it’s working like hospitals used to work before PCs became as common as lab coats. Which means things go a bit slower. For some nurses, this will be easier because that’s the way things used to work. The good news is that the 5K sprint is over. The bad news is this manual way of working is a completely foreign way of working.

Step 5: Once the HCIS is back up, find time to enter the downtime patient data into the HCIS.

Getting back up still means you’ve got to enter the patient data and records back into the HCIS.

5K races are great ways to bond with friends, burn some stress and calories. The challenge is when the race is to track down the latest patient data backups. Technology may be the cause of this problem, but there is technology to fix it. You might find this check list helpful if you want to see the leading signs that your downtime plan needs some help.

Arthur Young

Arthur Young is a visionary healthcare information systems entrepreneur who has focused Interbit Data’s offerings on providing secure and reliable methods of connecting users with HCIS information. Prior to founding Medical Systems Solutions (the precursor to Interbit Data) in 1997, Arthur spent 10 years with MEDITECH and three years at JJWild.