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Nextech Blog

Preparing for Disaster Goes Beyond Having a Plan

Posted On 10/17/2017 by Brian Gennusa

How your EMR & Practice Management Systems Play a Part in Contingency Planning

Disaster PlanningDisaster. Catastrophe. Crisis. Most of us do not like the think about these things, and we often neglect to plan for them until they are upon us. But in the midst of recent events—Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, wildfires in California and one of the largest earthquakes in Mexico—it is important to recognize that contingency planning is something that should not be overlooked, waiting until a threat is imminent and we must react.

Nextech's main office was recently in the direct path of Hurricane Irma. As with any storm, meteorologists had a difficult time predicting Irma's exact path and intensity. As conditions changed, Nextech staff members and many other Floridians relied heavily on technology—from television to battery-operated broadcast radio—to stay up-to-date on the storm's effect on both personal and professional matters.

While corporately, we use methods such as email and text notifications to keep staff and clients informed of our office status, we would like to share with you our insights from preparing for Hurricane Irma's direct impact, and three things you can do in your practice using Nextech to prepare today for the unexpected.

Let's dive into these three ways you can use technology to prepare for and survive crisis:

  1. Back Up Data
  2. Keep in Touch with Patients and Staff
  3. Simplify Influx of Patients and Transfer of Records

1. Back Up Data

Paper Records

For practices using paper records, backing up information can be nearly impossible. If disaster strikes the location at which records are stored—typically the practice—all may be lost. One option for these types of practices is to digitally store all records, but converting records from paper to digital can be cumbersome, may raise HIPAA concerns and is often not practical in times when quick preparations are required. Alternatively, offices using paper records could store information off-site, but this also raises similar concerns as digitizing records.

On-premise Servers

Since the rise of EHR technology, many practices have opted for on-premise EMR solutions, as this was the first available option. The on-premise EMR requires server setups that can be expensive to set up, so many practices have chosen to maintain their investments. However, when it comes to planning for catastrophe, server-based solutions need to be backed up manually. As a best practice, these types of systems should be backed up on a regular basis (we recommend as often as possible), as disasters such as earthquakes can strike at any time without notice. If you have advanced notice of a natural threat, be sure to perform a manual backup of the system before closing the office and ensure the backup file is safe.

Cloud & SaaS

When it comes to cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, backing up data is never a worry. These options host system data in off-site, secure servers and do not require the practice to maintain any of its own server equipment. Additionally, cloud and SaaS solutions automatically back up data redundantly, meaning that there is always a safe and accessible "backup" copy in case of any type of failure or catastrophe, and the practice never has to perform a manual backup.

2. Keep in Touch with Patients & Staff

During natural catastrophes, we rely on technology to keep us informed of government warnings, event updates and to stay in touch with each other. Even during power loss, we stay connected through battery-operated broadcast and two-way radios.

In your practice, you can use streamlined communication features within your Practice Management software, such as the mail merge feature in the Letter Writing module, to keep patients updated on the status of your office and appointments. If a natural weather event or irregular office closing is expected, you can set up a templated letter communicating the plans for your practice during the event, and Letter Writing will fill in the relevant patient information.

Be sure to inform patients scheduled during closure dates that their appointment will need to be rescheduled. You can do this right within the module when you filter by customers with appointments that will be affected by the closure. Also, consider including patients who may be likely to contact your practice for a follow-up or recurring visit. Getting ahead of communicating your practice's emergency plans will help free up your staff to assist with any other preparations needed before the closure—not to mention your patients will appreciate the open communication.

Communication doesn't end with your patients. Ensure that the practice staff is informed every step of the way regarding what days the office will close and when they are expected to return. Consider updating them with any other relevant information such as changes to expect when they return and who to contact with questions.

While you may not be able to keep your staff updated through the Nextech software, it's easy to update them via email or other automated text message services. Proactively keeping the entire staff informed during unusual events helps eliminate unnecessary questions and confusion while allowing everyone in the practice to focus on final preparations before a closure or staying safe during a critical circumstance.

3. Simplify Influx of Patients & Transfer of Records

During the preparations for Hurricane Irma, we saw a call for the largest evacuation in U.S. history. More than 6.3 million Floridians were ordered to leave their homes in preparation for the storm. While Floridians were not ordered to leave the state—only their evacuation zones—many Floridians chose to drive or fly north to completely avoid the destruction of Hurricane Irma.

With a mass evacuation, there are bound to be people who seek medical care outside of their home state. When not in the path of calamity, your practice can prepare to simplify any potential influx of patients by optimizing scheduling and practice workflows, and seeing where potential availabilities lie in the schedule. Using the tools in your PM to ensure that your practice is at peak efficiency will help you open your doors to additional patients and maximize on the additional revenue they bring.

Ophthalmologists using Nextech's IntelleChartPRO can take preparations one step further by simplifying the transfer of patient records. IntelleChartPRO comes with Shared Care, a feature that provides access to a network of Ophthalmology specialists who also use IntelleChartPRO. Shared Care makes it easy for providers to find other Shared Care users and to send and receive patient records to them seamlessly. The recipient can provide services and update the chart as he or she normally would, and send the completed records back to the referring physician digitally.

Ensuring your practice takes advantage of included features like Shared Care not only helps patients who need an emergency referral due to travel or evacuation, but also helps physicians build their regular referral network.

The Key: Always Be Ready

Sometimes adversity strikes on a regional level, and sometimes it strikes only within your office. Either way, it is important to always have a plan in place that will keep your patients and staff informed of practice operations.

Whether the cause is natural disaster or a fluke service outage, interruptions like internet loss can have a major effect on your business if you're not prepared for them. Do as much as you can today to prepare for any unexpected hiccups. In the event that internet goes down, know how to tether your cell phone or use a mobile hotspot (e.g., mobile AirCard) so your day doesn't have to stop just because your internet service provider does.

Knowing how to use the EMR and PM technology you already have can make a world of difference in preparation and in getting your practice up and running after unexpected events have passed. You can go from hastily preparing a few days before an event (or worse—not being prepared at all) to always being ready to calmly enact your business continuity plan.

Topics Healthcare IT, Practice Management, Ophthalmology, Electronic Medical Records, Plastic Surgery, Best Practices, EMR, EHR, Industry News, Cloud, Dermatology