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Hospitals, Doctors And Patients Impacted By Unplanned EHR Downtime

Posted on June 18, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

EHRs are going to crash and go offline from time to time. But are physicians and hospitals prepared to deal with the fallout when this happens? The answer seems to be “maybe.”

Of course, physicians and hospitals have plenty of reasons to avoid EHR downtime.

For one thing, EHR crashes can have a major impact on care delivery. After all, without EHRs, physicians may have no access to patient data, which could lead to care complications or adverse events.

Also, downtime adds addition pain (and expense) to the situation. According to one estimate, unplanned system failures can cost $634 per physician per hour. Meanwhile, according to Dean Sitting of the University of Texas, a large hospital may lose as much as $1 million per hour when their EHR is down. Those are scary numbers.

Unfortunately, despite the costs, strain to the hospital operations and consumer complaints arising from downtime, many hospitals refuse to invest in preventive technologies such as a backup data center, arguing that they’re just too expensive. As a result, hospitals can be offline for a long time when their EHR system crashes, which typically has a nasty ripple effect.

One example of how EHR downtime affects hospital operations comes from Sutter Health, the largest health system in northern California, whose EHR went offline for more than 24 hours in May. The crash took place when a fire-suppression system was activated in the system’s data center.

During the shutdown, Sutter hospitals followed a series of steps often used by its peers, such as cutting elective surgeries, transporting patients to other hospitals and discharging patients who weren’t very sick. They also switched over to paper records. But despite these efforts, Sutter still faced some problems that weren’t addressed by its plans.

For one thing, younger doctors were thrown a curve ball, as many had never worked with paper charts. This alone gummed up the works during the downtime episode. There were no signs that these doctors made any mistakes due to using paper records, but the risk was there.

Then there were the effects on patients – and some were ugly. For example, when Santa Clara resident Susan Harkema’s father died, she called Sutter Health’s Hospital of the Valley to arrange for removal of his body to a crematorium. According to a story appearing in San Jose Mercury News, Harkema tried a hotline and backup numbers but couldn’t reach anyone due to the outage. It took 8 hours for a hospice nurse to arrive and collect the body, the newspaper reported.

Another patient tweeted that they had to go out of the Sutter system for critical care, which left the treating physicians without care history to review. “It was stressful and scary, and we still aren’t sure we have a successful outcome,” they said.

The net of all of this seems to be that hospital downtime policies could use more than a few tweaks, and more importantly, a better failsafe protecting EHRs from going offline in the first place. Sure, no EHR system is perfect, and crashes are inevitable, but providers can be better prepared.

Aprima EHR’s Offline Functionality

Posted on August 29, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve been writing for a number of years on the challenge that EMR downtime causes a clinic. In case you missed them, check out some of the following posts:
My EMR is DOWN!!!
Working Offline When Your EHR Isn’t Available
Cost of EHR Down Time
Reasons Your EHR Will Go Down
SaaS EHR Down Time vs. In House EHR Down Time

Not to mention Katherine Rourke’s recent post titled, “When The EMR Goes Down, Doctors Freak Out.” Obviously, downtime is a big problem as doctors become more reliant on their EHR software. Plus, as I state in some of the article, downtime is inevitable.

One of the most common comments I got on those posts was doctors asking why they couldn’t work in the EHR software even when it was down. My answer was usually that the EHR vendor could do that, but that it would require them to architect the EHR to be able to support offline use of the EHR and that wasn’t a simple task.

Turns out that Aprima has built this functionality into their EHR called Aprima Replication. Here’s their description of the replication feature:

Every installation of Aprima EHR includes the Replication functionality. This allows physicians to continue working within patient charts when they are not able to be connected to their server (whether it is hosted locally in their office or in the cloud). They have identical functionality as if they were fully connected with the ability to look up or enter data, perform everyday tasks such as messaging and tasking, create orders, review results, etc. Everything is stored locally on their hard drive in a secure and encrypted environment and automatically syncs information the next time they are online whether that be over a mobile wireless connection, wifi + VPN over a public network, back in their office over a wired or wifi network, at home, or wherever and however they are able to connect. Additionally, all of the synchronization is done behind the scenes allowing the provider to continue working live without having to wait for the replication to complete.

Aprima Replication goes beyond other mobile technologies because this does not require connectivity, and even more importantly it is not simply a copy of the server that is “read only,” or a partial export of charts that leaves the server side locked until the provider “checks the chart back in.” This is fully functional on the provider side while disconnected AND allows others to also continue to make updates and changes to the chart, patient scheduling, handle all the needs surrounding coordination of care, billing and collections, etc. This can also be used as a great “downtime” alternative to paper in the event of an internet outage for those using the cloud or a server failure when running it locally.

I asked a couple follow up questions to clarify exactly how the offline EMR functionality worked. Here are my questions and their answers (originally an email exchange):
The challenge I have is understanding how the patient records are available without an internet connection. You can’t be downloading every single patient record locally are you?

In our unique, patent pending Replication process, every provider has a profile unique to their needs and preferences. This includes a subset of patients based on their previous schedule, future schedule, open orders and tasks, a specific facility they may be servicing such as a nursing home, their messages, attachments, (they can set size limits to address minimal bandwidth environments such as wireless air cards) etc. Based on these parameters the appropriate patient charts are “replicated” to their tablet/laptop computer. This is an ongoing, real-time process while they are connected to the network that keeps the data current. Any time they disconnect, or even lose connectivity if there is an outage, they continue to have full chart access for reviewing, adding, and editing as if they were still connected. As soon as connectivity is restored the synchronization starts up again and continues until all of their work, plus all of the work done simultaneously on the server side, is merged back together.

Does it just download some “active patient” list or the records for the patients on your schedule for some certain time period? It’s a really beautiful thing that you’re program can work without the internet. I assume all of the drug databases, etc are downloaded and available locally as well?

Yes, they are, including all drug interaction checking which remains fully functional while off line. Any orders for scripts, labs, diagnostics, or anything else, can be created offline and then processed when the computer is back in network range. So the script or order will be ‘staged’ and ready to go. It’s just like when you write an email when your offline, then when you get in range, the emails in your outbox just go.

The other question I have is how the records deal with multiple people modifying the record in a disconnected mode. What if the nurse accesses the record and documents something and then the doctor gets in and document something. Does the record get reconciled once it’s reconnected?

Yes indeed it does.

Are there every any issues that have to be reconciled manually?

There is a “collision” report. These “collisions” are rare but we do accommodate them very well. If a Replication “save” conflict occurs, a message will be sent to the user group that is defined to be notified. Replication conflict messages contain details of the conflict and the name of the associated patient if applicable.

The next time I see Aprima at a conference, I plan to check out this feature first hand. Reconciling a patient record that two people are editing can get pretty complex. I’d like to see how it handles it. Plus, I’d love to see how well it does at resyncing the data after being offline for a while. Not to mention how well it does at identifying the patient info it should have stored locally.

This is a really challenging feature to implement. I think it says something about Aprima that they took it on. If it works well, I know there are a lot of doctors that would love this feature in their EHR.