TECH: Disaster recovery

Echoing a theme that I’ve been pushing over at my FierceHealthcare newsletter the last two days, here’s a nasty story about the awful subject of disaster recovery.  Not only will Charity Hospital and University Hospital in New Orleans never reopen in their same place, but they have lost all their computer records.

The health care system is dealing with another major ordeal — its computers. The hospitals IT system was in New Orleans and they lost it. For some reason, their backup system also failed. Now, they have Internet access only on five laptops in their "war room." The university’s entire health care system is being run through those laptops.

For anybody in health care (or in any other business for that matter reading this) this is an almighty bloody wake-up call. How are your computer systems being backed up and where is your data. It needs to be backed up locally and also needs to be backed up redundantly somewhere much further away. Here’s an example of one service that’s literally keeping its customers’ businesses alive.

I don’t know who Charity’s CIO was, but not having their computer data backed up (if that is the case) is inexcusable. But worse is having all your medical records merely on paper in one place.  But that is of course the case for 90% of medical records in this country and probably the same proportion in New Orleans.

There are two choices here. First get a local electronic system that has redundant local and remote data back up.  Most serious IT companies have multiple centers for this eventuality.  Second, use an ASP system that handles the applications and the data in a remote place., There may be times when that’s not the best solution, but in times of complete disaster at least that data is safe.

And now put on your to-do list at the top 2 things.

One, if you are in business, go look at the state of your data back-up right now. If the place burned to the ground tonight, can you access your data immediately? Where is it? Are your suppliers set up to retrieve it?

Second, are your personal information and valuables safe?  Last week I ordered a fire-proof safe because, although I have data backed up pretty well (but not well enough as I don’t have it outside of the Bay Area but I will be changing that!) my passport, house papers, etc, etc are all in a file drawer. If you need more advice about personal data back ups, take a look at this New York Times Circuits article.

Meanwhile, if you are a vendor thinking about a way to get your ASP service in front of people, put data backup security at the top of your marketing list! Allscripts and Medem are ahead of you there, even if Glen Tullman is fudging a bit when he gets ePrescribing into the mix!

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  1. I have an amusing cautionary tale about this from Bank of America. I joined a department that was responsible for disaster contingency operations for BofA’s retirement accounts in California. During my first week, I participateed in a test run of the emergency plan. We all took a field trip to the alternative site, and we were supposed to run through a checklist to test all the systems. The interesting thing was that no one really knew what they were doing. There had been a great deal of turnover in the department over the last few years, and the systems were outdated (AS/400) so skills weren’t being refreshed. The manager was actually misrepresenting himself as “technical”, and he just had a consultant who told him what to do. So, basically, in an emergency situation, all the retirement records for California were in the hands of this consultant who probably wouldn’t show up in the event of an earthquake.
    Sure, the CIO of BofA should have done something about this: but how would he know unless the manager volunteered to report he wasn’t qualified for his job?

  2. I’m not sure the article says all records were lost, but that their computer systems, including backup systems, are down. They may still have records that aren’t accessible.

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