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Disaster Recovery: Create a Disaster Plan Before You Need One

Oct 25, 2017

Create a Disaster Plan Before You Need One

From multiple Category 4 hurricanes to catastrophic earthquakes, this year has seen more than its fair share of disasters. This reinforces the need for disaster planning by all businesses including medical practices.

You can’t prevent a hurricane or earthquake, of course, but your response to one could make the difference between inconvenience, misfortune or disaster.

What should your disaster plan cover? Experts distinguish between natural and technological disasters, the latter referring to human-built systems. But since their damages often overlap, your disaster plan should address both.

Involve your staff in creating the plan by appointing a small committee to gather information and create a draft. And be sure to assign deadlines because disaster planning is easy to put off.

Start With Your Practice

Your team needs to identify the processes that each department uses. Of these, which ones are critical in day-to-day work? Which systems, supplies and data stores support them? Your staff’s insight is invaluable here.

Then assume that each critical process isn’t functioning. Use patient and financial records to calculate how soon each breakdown would harm your patients or your practice.

Your ability to use and exchange EHR data will always be a top priority, but conduct a comprehensive review. If a surgeon reviews a hard-bound volume before every procedure, for example, that could be critical. And don’t forget patient information that’s not in your EHR system.

Identify the Most Likely Disasters

Government agencies and disaster-planning associations can help you assess the likelihood of different events in your area.

Also consider disasters that would affect only your office. A flu bug, power outage, damaged Internet cable or hazardous spill can paralyze a business. Review your insurance policy and poll your physician peers for their experience.

Next, determine how each disaster type would potentially affect your business-critical resources. Most effects will be in five areas:

  1. Staff attendance
  2. Patient information
  3. Communications
  4. Medical supplies
  5. Physical office space

Two Way Disaster Planning

A disaster plan consists of two parts: what to do during a disaster, and how to prepare before a disaster strikes. During a disaster, certain questions will come to the fore, such as:

  • Who’s in charge and who is the backup?
  • If some staff are absent, who will perform their critical duties?
  • Who is triaging patients?
  • Who is in communication with staff, patients and emergency authorities?
  • What does your outgoing message say?
  • If you’re short on critical supplies such as drugs, where will you get them?
  • Where will you set up if your facility is unusable?
  • How can staff access EHR records and payment information?
  • What’s next — how will you go about restoring all your practice functions?

These and other questions will inform your pre-disaster tasks, which may include the following:

  1. Assemble complete contact lists for staff, patients, vendors and emergency agencies, including alternate channels if phones are out. Establish a process to keep these lists updated and accessible.
  2. Bring your data backup systems up to code. Be certain your information is duplicated and stored — regularly, frequently and automatically. Keep one backup on your premises and store one or more at a location outside your region. Make sure your vendors can deliver data on demand and in a format your staff can use immediately.
  3. Inventory your office. Prioritize expensive or hard-to-replenish items, but don’t neglect everyday forms. Confirm that your pharmaceutical and other vendors have policies in place to support you in a disaster.
  4. Review your practice insurance coverage. Besides disaster damage and expenses, also consider purchasing coverage for loss of income.
  5. Keep offsite copies of all financial and legal documents, including deeds, vendor contracts and loan documents.
  6. Create and publicize disaster protocols so everyone has them, especially those on chain of command, division of emergency tasks, and where to regroup.

Low Risk, High Stakes

The chances are relatively low that your practice will burn to the ground or be overwhelmed in a major terrorist attack. But without a plan, even a small disaster can damage or close a practice. Your medical office, by its patient-centered nature, has special obligations and vulnerabilities in an emergency.

Healthcare Practice Strategies - Fall 2017

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