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Poor execution of IT in healthcare endangers physician independence

Two independent physicians in North Carolina experienced IT failures so severe that they reconsidered their solo status.

A silent killer is contributing to the well-documented decrease of independent physicians in the U.S. Poorly executed implementations of IT in healthcare have pushed some physicians to their limits and left them seriously considering giving up on their EHR systems or joining larger health systems to reduce their IT burdheaens.

While preparing to meet meaningful use requirements, two primary care physicians in North Carolina suffered IT emergencies that shook their confidence and caused both to reconsider their EHR commitments and their independent status. Due to poor execution of IT in healthcare and lack of appropriate disaster recovery planning, both physicians experienced EHR server crashes that resulted in loss of health information and caused significant disruptions to patient care. The physicians said these IT failures stemmed from two different vendors with poor backups and flawed disaster recovery plans.

In both cases the physicians questioned whether they will be able to trust an IT provider again. They also expressed frustration at having to invest in IT infrastructure solely to support their EHR system. Both suggested that going back to paper records may be the best way for them to keep their costs down and see more patients without constantly worrying about IT threats and system failures.

These conversations aren't happening only in rural North Carolina. Many independent physicians recognize that technology costs can be a burden on their business and latching on to a hospital system can significantly reduce or eliminate their IT headaches. Large hospitals and hospital systems are more prepared for dealing with system outages and other technical glitches due to their larger budgets and dedicated IT departments.

Unfortunately, IT disasters are increasingly common. Physicians must be prepared for system failures, cyberattacks and cloud outages. But independent physicians can take certain steps to reduce the risks associated with IT disasters.

Establish a technology baseline and identify gaps. Although it sounds complex and expensive, many reputable technology vendors offer assessment services to a prospective buyer to determine whether they should change technology vendors. Free evaluations may be available only to small practices; larger ones will likely have to pay a fee to have their entire system checked.

Perform a HIPAA risk assessment. A risk assessment is only one of the things healthcare practices are required by HIPAA to perform. A HIPAA risk assessment is a way for a healthcare practice to gauge if it is meeting necessary safeguards to protect patient health information. Most of the requirements are derived from standards established by the National Institute of Technology and Standards.

Identify a local knowledgeable healthcare IT provider. Local medical groups are a great reference for information about technology vendors. By asking local physicians or office administrators, a group or individual can find reputable experts to consult about healthcare technology.

Consider cloud options. Many of today's EHR vendors offer cloud options. Some host the EHR system directly on their servers or employ a hosting provider. A cloud EHR can offer improved protection of patients' records, on-the-go access to EHR data and reduced dependency on local infrastructure.

Hold IT vendors accountable. When vendors or service providers agree to a deal with a medical organization, abusiness associate agreement puts far more responsibility on the technology vendor than they might realize. All parties should understand what services are being offered. Both sides should go over, in detail, the language in the contract to clarify what's covered by the vendor and what's not.

Discuss disaster recovery. It's important to involve EHR vendors in disaster recovery and business continuity planning conversations. Because they know their products well, they should be able to provide a list of best practices to restore them to working order after a system error occurs.

Technology continues to enable better healthcare. Physicians and clinical staff must continue to focus on patient care, and IT systems must be implemented correctly to avoid downtime, penalties and loss of revenue. Both small and large physician practices are required to ensure that their IT infrastructures are operating well enough to support their internal systems. Whether a health organization has internal IT resources or is using a third-party vendor, having a system of checks and balances will help ensure all systems are operating efficiently.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected] or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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