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6 Ways to Minimize IT System Downtime

What a Healthcare Provider Can Do

Judi Grassi

The Cost of Downtime

Group practices, clinics, and small hospitals are in late stage implementations and even early-stage upgrades to their Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems and seeing the impact on efficiencies and the quality of care. Information is power. But if your system goes down, your administrative and clinical staff sit unproductive, while you implement reactive fixes against the clock.

According to the analyst firm IDC, system downtime for a small to medium-sized business (SMB) costs between $137 to $427 per minute.[1] For a group practice, clinic, or small hospital, that can add up to thousands of dollars a day. Extended system downtime can also impact patient care. When your clinicians don’t have access to patient health records, they may need to reschedule appointments and tests, take manual physician notes, even refer patients to other healthcare organizations (HCOs) for treatment. Your staff can’t schedule patient visits, issue invoices, submit claims or process payments.

Causes of Downtime

Data breaches and ransomware are getting a lot of media attention these past several years and with good reason. As time marches on, cyber-criminals get more creative as they look for weaknesses in popular hardware, operating systems, applications, and networks – including yours. All it takes is for one of your employees to click on a link in an email and your systems and data can be breached.

As ominous as a data breach or ransomware attack sounds, it is not the reason most IT systems go down. An Uptime Institute survey data cited that the biggest single cause of failure is loss of on-site power – 33 percent of respondents (n=664) suffered at least one such incident. This was followed by network failure at 30 percent and an IT/software error at 28 percent.[2] Hardware failure, human error, and natural disasters also cause your IT systems to fail.

When you consider the number of variables that can lead to a down system, it’s only a matter of time until it happens to your organization. Therefore, it is important for your organization to have a back-up and disaster recovery plan in place.

IT Outages Increasing

Indeed, some studies suggest that IT outages are neither rare nor declining. Uptime Institute’s survey found that 31 percent of respondents experienced an IT downtime incident or severe degradation of service in the past year, somewhat higher than the 2017 survey, which cited that 25 percent of respondents experienced a failure in the past year. [3]

Why do IT outages appear to be more frequent? While explanations are not clear, industry experts cite increased IT complexity and system interdependencies. With the Medicare Promotion Interoperability Program, HCOs will be developing new, more complex networks that can increase the chances of an IT outage if not properly implemented and managed. Security requirements must be embedded into every layer of the infrastructure.[4]

How to Minimize IT Downtime

While you can never eliminate IT downtime, you can take proactive steps to minimize how often a system goes down and/or minimize the time a system is down:

  1. Monitor your servers and network – Take steps to monitor your systems and network to ensure they are performing at peak capacity. Early detection of a performance problem can eliminate a system crash.
  2. Back up your system and data – You should always have three copies of your data across two storage media with one backup held offsite. In many instances a well implemented back up plan  will have your systems restored and business returned to normal operations very quickly.
  3. Stay current with system upgrades and fixes - Upgrades typically contain bug fixes and performance improvements, which is why you want to always stay up-to-date with system hardware and software upgrades.
  4. Ensure IT security best practices: Ensure your network is hardened and that your anti-virus software is up to date across all systems.
  5. Train employees – Employees must be trained on security awareness as it pertains to email scams, social media dangers, malware, ransomware, etc. One employee’s poor or unfortunate decision to click on an unknown link can lead to a major data breach.
  6. Carefully test and schedule major upgrades and new implementations – New systems and major upgrades should be carefully planned. Its also important to always have an implementation backup plan in case you need it.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are a group practice or small clinic with no in-house IT expertise, or you have limited IT staff, consider hiring a managed service provider (MSP) to maintain your IT systems. If you are a hospital or HCO with a larger IT team, you can look to an MSP to augment your team with specific IT expertise. Leading MSPs will tailor their services to meet specific needs, ensuring you pay for only what you need.

Regardless of your approach to IT system management, be sure you have access to IT experts – either in-house or outsourced – to keep your systems operating at top performance and minimize IT downtime.

 

[1] Carbonite, (2015) Downtime Costs Small Businesses up to $427 per minute.

[2] Lawrence, A., (2018) Uptime Institute data shows outages are common, costly, and preventable.

[3] Ibid.

[4] American Hospital Association. (2019) SHARING DATA, SAVING LIVES: The Hospital Agenda for Interoperability