Erin McCann at Healthcare IT News wrote a recent report on a McKesson EHR outage at Rideout Health after an HVAC unit burned out. In the article she also talks about the $1 billion (I love that she added the price tag) Epic EHR outage that occurred in August 2013 at Sutter Health and lasted an entire day. Plus, she mentions the IT network failure at Martin Health System in January 2014 and had their Epic EHR down for 2 days. I’m sure there are many more that were shorter or just weren’t reported by news outlets.
When I think about EHR downtime I’m reminded of the Titanic. You can invest all you want in the “unsinkable” EHR implementation and unexpected downtime will still occur. Yes, much like the Titanic that everyone thought was totally unsinkable, it now lies at the bottom of the ocean as a testament to nature’s ability to sink anything. That includes causing your EHR to go down.
Let’s say your EHR is able to have 99.9% uptime. That would feel pretty good wouldn’t it. Well, that turns out to be 8 hours 45 minutes and 57 seconds over the year. That’s still a full working day of downtime. If you expand to 99.99% downtime, that’s still 52.56 minutes of downtime. At 99.999 (Five Nines as they say in the industry) of downtime is 5.39 minutes of downtime.
The challenge is that with every 9 you add to your reliability and uptime requirements the costs increase exponentially. They don’t increase linearly, but exponentially. Try getting that exponential cost curve approved by your hospital. It’s not going to happen.
Another way to look at this is to consider tech powerhouses like Google. They have some of the highest quality engineers in the world and pay them a lot more than you’re paying your hospital tech staff. Even with all of that investment and expertise, they still go down. So, why would we think that our hospital EHR could do better than Google?
One way many organizations try to get a Google like uptime in their organizations is to use an outside data center. Many of these data centers are able to implement and invest in a lot of areas a hospital could never afford to invest in. Of course, these data centers only provide a few layers of the technology stack. So, they can minimize downtime for some things, but not all.
The real solution is to make sure your organization has a plan for when downtime occurs. Yes, this basically means you assume that your EHR will go down and what will you do? This was my first hand experience. At one point the EHR that I implemented went down. The initial reaction was fear and shock as people asked the question, “What do we do?” However, thanks to a strong leader, she pulled out our previously created plan for when the EHR went down. Having that plan and a strong leader who reminded people of the plan calmed everyone down completely. It still wasn’t fun to have the EMR down, but it was definitely manageable.
What have you done to prepare for EHR downtime? Do you have a plan in place? Have you had the experience of having your EHR down? What was it like? Are you afraid of what will happen in your hospital when your EHR goes down?