The Impact of 9/11 on Healthcare IT

On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in my Harvard Clinical Research Institute office  (I was CIO there from 2001-2007 as part of my Harvard Medical School CIO duties).  A staff member ran into my office and told me that a plane had crashed into a World Trade Center Tower.  This sounded like a horrible accident.   Then, the second tower was hit and we knew this disaster was planned.  News of the Pentagon and Pennsylvania crashes trickled in.   I gathered all the staff and told them to focus on their families and personal safety, to go home and stay in touch virtually as we learned more about the day’s events.

What impact has 9/11 had on my healthcare IT world since then?

9/11 had a profound impact on our culture, making us all understand our vulnerability.

The loss of life gave us an appreciation of the preciousness of each day we have on the planet, putting the problems of our work lives in perspective.

The loss of infrastructure, including many data centers, was a wake up call that redundancy goes beyond servers, networks, and storage.   Whole buildings can disappear in an instant through natural or manmade disaster.

Since 9/11, Beth Israel Deaconess has invested over $10 million dollars to create a redundant IT infrastructure that includes geographically disparate data centers, remote hosting of our financial applications, and data replication of a petabyte with less than a minute of loss in the case of a major disaster.

We support remote, web-based access of all our applications and data so that our mission can continue even if travel into Boston is restricted.

Our healthcare information exchange efforts have created a foundational backbone for care coordination in the event of a disaster.

The events of 9/11 are felt throughout the country, but especially in Boston, the takeoff point for the planes that were flown into the World Trade Center towers.    At my daughter’s recent Tufts University matriculation ceremony, the Dean reflected that  3 members of her freshman class lost parents on 9/11.

Our homage to the events of 9/11 is a resilient IT infrastructure that can support our patients, regardless of the disasters that may strike.   Disaster recovery, security, and emergency support efforts will continue, inspired by the memories of those who perished 10 years ago.

John Halamka, MD, is the CIO at Beth Israel Deconess Medical Center and the author of the popular Life as a Healthcare CIO blog, where he writes about technology, the business of healthcare and the issues he faces as the leader of the IT department of a major hospital system.

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