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May 31 2011   10:34AM GMT

In the event of an emergency: Health care IT disaster recovery

Posted by: Jenny Laurello
Data loss, Data management, Data storage, Disaster planning, Disaster recover, healthcare storage virtualization

Guest post by Ruby Raley, Director, Health Care Solutions, Axway

It seems like many health care providers have been so busy architecting their state HIEs, regional health organizations and enterprise community platforms that they haven’t thought through the architectural demands of resiliency. So they don’t have a good answer for the question, “What happens if I lose all or part of my network in a disaster?”

In order to answer that question, you need to let your imagination run wild, factor in your organization’s specific circumstances and explore a range of disaster recovery scenarios to develop an effective set of responses.

Start by asking yourself the basics:

  • What data do we have?
  • What data can we store?
  • What data can we transport easily?
  • What data can we get to another location in the event of an emergency?
  • What critical types of data are likely to be needed (i.e. medication lists, immunization records for population subsets like children and medical records for those with chronic conditions)?

Beyond the data itself, there’s the issue of access to the data. If you need to change security rules in your data center, how do you do that? Which personnel need access to the system (for instance, volunteers as well as trained professionals)? What type of IT people would be most critical? Would the right business administrators be available to make rule changes?

Granting security access is really important. To be able to grant new people access to a large number of records, you’re going to have to make a massive change, perhaps even relax security completely.

And what about information flow under disaster conditions? Would you have a way to throttle information in-flow to the rate of speed your system can consume? In emergency situations, health care providers must often queue data so that the system can process it as fast as possible without being overwhelmed by sheer volume. This is particularly important if you’ve designed a real-time synchronous system.

Other potentially important questions to ask when exploring disaster recovery scenarios include:

  • 1. Would you have to move hundreds, or even thousands, of records in minutes or hours, or would you have days to respond?
  • 2. Does your network have the necessary bandwidth to handle big data moves?
  • 3. Would people be able to access computer terminals remotely if your data center is not in your building?
  • 4. Is it possible that network lines feeding into your building could go down, so that even if your data center is up and running, no one could access the data?

Thinking through disaster recovery scenarios may seem daunting, but the process can be invaluable. It can build team spirit and cross-departmental cooperation where it doesn’t currently exist. It can give you insight into the limits of your capabilities. It can expose a process or procedure gap. It can give you the tools to illustrate for management how your modern health information exchange is going to respond in an emergency. Perhaps most importantly, it can throw into stark relief the importance of granting secure access to the first responder facing the most vital challenge of all: effectively ensuring the well-being of the patient.

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