The Do’s and Don’ts of Disaster Recovery Planning for Your Data

By Don Glidewell, CEO, Think Anew

Disaster knows no bounds and can strike anywhere.  During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, two-thirds of the deaths were people over the age of 65. Learning how to successfully plan for disaster or catastrophic events should not be done in hindsight. You need an effective plan in place to protect both your residents and your data, in order to continue care.

Protecting the vital information needed to care for residents is often overlooked as a critical element of a disaster plan.  While there are many ways we store this data, it’s important to think about how we access that information in an emergency situation. It could be a matter of life and death.

True story

Recently, I met some folks who thought they were ready.  They had an excellent disaster plan in place that covered everything they thought they might need.  When disaster did strike, they realized there was one gap in their plan.  They couldn’t access resident care information.  They couldn’t get to the nurses’ stations to retrieve charts.  Their servers were destroyed, and the data backups out of date.  They had to provide care on the fly, in a temporary command center without the usual records to guide them.  They had to triage residents to other locations but couldn’t provide the critical information receiving facilities needed to appropriately care for them.

Different disasters, different procedures

 The type of emergency or disaster doesn’t matter.  Whether it’s an earthquake, fire, flood, tornado, infectious disease or simple power outage, you need to be ready. 

You likely already have comprehensive policies and procedures in place to help guide your staff. But, do they include a listing of command areas for which specific staff members are responsible?  For example, who on your team is responsible for the computer system? How can it be accessed remotely?  Who will be responsible for medical records, if they’re accessible?

Why paper is a disaster in and of itself

It’s a well-known fact that the long-term care industry lags behind the rest of the healthcare industry in the use of technology.  Many providers still document on paper, while others use a blended system of paper and electronic solutions. 

Disaster preparedness exposes how vulnerable organizations are in an emergency.  Consider the folks mentioned earlier, who lost access to the charts in the nurses’ stations.  This is an example of the blended system, using both paper and technology to manage care.  Without paper records to guide them, their decisions were educated, but not based on the actual care plans or medication administration records. 

These folks were lucky they didn’t have any negative outcomes.  How would your team fare if they had to care for or triage your residents without any documentation to reference?

Best practices

Outside of the usual things we do to prepare, I recommend having a detailed plan to retrieve data critical to the care of your residents.  Some things to consider:

Paper—which parts of your documentation could you move to an electronic health record (EHR)?  Medication management, weights and vitals, care plans, and emergency contact information for resident families.  These are a few examples of data you might consider keeping in an electronic system that can be accessed remotely.   The more data you have electronically stored, the more information you can move easily in disaster scenarios.

Backups—if you do use an EHR, do you have a foolproof backup procedure that ensures data is stored offsite? Do you have a way of accessing backup data?  A backup of your data is worthless if it’s destroyed in the disaster. Consider using an EHR that stores and backs up the data for you.  Several vendors store data safely and securely, in the cloud.  These EHR solutions remove the worry of data access during an emergency situation.  Things to ask your vendor:

  1. How often is my data backed up?
  2. How do I access the information remotely?
  3. Is my data stored in a secure data center?

Plan for the worst, expect the best

There’s no substitute for careful planning.  Every time we hear about a disaster, we think about how we might have managed it differently.  Think about how you would protect and care for your residents. Consider the information you would want at your fingertips.  Think about what systems should be in place to protect and guide you in case disaster comes calling.  Will your EHR be there when you need it most? 

Upcoming Webinar – The Do’s and Don’ts of Disaster Recovery Planning

I’ll be sharing more disaster planning tips during an upcoming webinar –The Do’s and Don’ts of Disaster Recovery Planning.

Join me on April 28, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. ET to learn more about the best practices to prepare your organization for disaster. Secure your space now. Those who register will receive a free Disaster Recovery Kit. 

Don Glidewell, CEO, Think ANew

Don founded Think Anew in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe.  Don volunteered for months on the coast of Mississippi, post-Katrina, to help with the revitalization efforts of nursing homes, hospitals, shelters, and schools. 

During that time, Don recognized the need for disaster recovery solutions serving the long-term care industry, and leveraged his two decades of IT experience to create customized offerings that fill the void left open by others.  He has served as CIO for long-term care companies, and spent 10 years at a Global Fortune 500 Company.  Don has also been recognized for his work as a member of the Board of Directors for the Better Business Bureau, councilman for the Mississippi Council for Economic Education, and has just accepted a position on the advisory board for Tulane University, helping them develop their Health Informatics degree program.

Under Don’s leadership, Think Anew has emerged as a leader nationally in innovative long-term care technology solutions.  The company’s primary focus is relationship-based customer service. Don believes superior customer service is the cornerstone to every successful business throughout history. Think Anew is no different –bridging the gap between innovative technology and unprecedented service to help each customer achieve their unique goals.  Think Anew was just recognized as Mississippi’s Best Place to Work, and was selected nationally by Inc. Magazine as one of the 2,500 fastest growing private companies in the US.

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