Money Matters Practice Management Disaster recovery plans
Disaster recovery plans
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practice_mngmt1_TN.jpgComputers in medical practice save time, money and ultimately lives but placing blind faith in technology can be disastrous. What would happen in your practice if the squirrels in your black box get tired and stop running?! Computer system crashes don't happen very often but they inevitably do, and without warning. Without some pre planning you could end up in the poo.

To minimise damage to clinical and administrative systems, smart practices set up a comprehensive disaster recovery plan to reduce service disruptions and risks for doctors and patients.

This does not mean dropping the stethoscope and grabbing a light sabre, by that time it could be too late and your IT system reduced to an online flat line.

No, this is about forward planning; something busy GPs and practice managers are hard pressed to do.

Back in June 2003, a South Australian Divisions survey Informatics Survey for Practice Managers*, revealed some alarming IT/IM things. Amongst the 177 practice managers and 299 GPs surveyed throughout urban and rural SA, one third had no disaster plan in the advent of a computer crash. A further 30% had no battery backup on the server or main computer or a power surge filter installed.

Worse still, 36% stated they had not tested their IT system backup by restoring some data (4% were only backing up weekly and 7% did not archive their data at all!). About a half had no firewall security to prevent unauthorised internet access to their records.

IT disasters happen for all sorts of reasons - human error, hardware failures, software glitches, improper configuration and power surges.

A disaster recovery plan is all about answering this question - when your system crashes, how much work are you prepared to repeat simply to replace the black hole in your back up - 1 hr, 4 hrs, 24 hrs or a week?! Design your backup system around your decision. IT-savvy people can tell you what is needed, who should be responsible for what, how often and when.

Once backups are in place, there are many proactive steps you can take to establishing your disaster recovery plan.

When forced to revert to paper systems amidst an on-line flat line, your staff require a clear plan they can follow to help offer seamless patient services despite the IT hiccups.

That's taking patient appointments, issuing patients with invoices and receipts and allowing doctors to provide adequate clinical care (without consulting online records).

First, determine what critical functions computers are used for in your practice.

Create an asset register of practice hardware and software, where they are, and the names and contact details of the relevant technical support personnel.

Decide who will be in charge of the IT disaster recovery and who is responsible for each function.

A fault log book documenting all computer viruses, server failures, error messages or full blown disasters while the practice is operating can also prove invaluable to help staff combat future ‘disasters' and solve IT problems in-house as they occur.

Lastly, your IT disaster recovery plan should also include all the information necessary for returning the practice to its normal state. After the administrative and clinical functions of the practice have been replaced with alternative systems, the designated IT recovery person endeavours to quickly assess what caused the crash. The cause is fixed and the backup data restored.

Then, it is time to resume your nervous breakdown!


For helpful information we recommend The GPCG computer security self assessment guide and checklist for general practitioners 1st edition April 2004.  Associate Professor Peter Schattner Monash University. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Ph: 03 8575 2222