Healthcare News & Insights

Vendors’ outage leaves dozens of hospitals without access to EHRs

In addition to security concerns, when healthcare organizations turn to cloud computing services for electronic health records and other critical IT components, they may also be at risk for other problems, such as downtime. That’s what several hospitals around the country recently learned after losing access to their EHRs. 

Cerner Corp., a major EHR vendor, recently said that a “human error” was to blame for an outage that resulted in dozens of hospitals losing access to their EHRs for about five hours.

During the outage, doctors and nurses had to revert back to writing in paper charts, but likely didn’t have access to information that was previously recorded in electronic records. Cerner didn’t comment on how many hospitals were affected by the incident, but did say that all of the company’s clients have back-up plans in place to keep patients safe when something like this happens, The Commercial Appeal reports. According to the report, doctors contacted were unaware of any patients who had been harmed during the outage.

Despite the lack of any known patient safety issues, this issue should provide a wake-up call to any providers using or considering cloud computing for EHRs or other services. Downtime is never completely preventable — even with on-site systems — so organizations must know what they will do to minimize damage.

When turning to the cloud, healthcare organizations should:

  1. Investigate a vendor’s downtime risk — Ask potential cloud computing vendors for statistics and get a contract that includes up-time guarantees with significant penalties for breaking them. Also, ask vendors’ references what reliability problems they have had with the vendor.
  2. Train staff on backup procedures — Federal law requires both vendors and providers to have a back-up plan in place — but that won’t do much good unless doctors, nurses and other employees know what to do before an outage hits. Serious problems can occur if everyone can’t immediately begin using the back-up procedures.
  3. Back up data — Many of the hospitals affected by the Cerner outage experienced minimal problems because they had stored their own back-up copies of patients’ EHRs.

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