Electronic health records (EHR) were intended to store patient records, which, though helpful, leaves a lot to be desired. Hospitals run around the clock with zero time to waste, so unexpected EHR downtime within a hospital system can be catastrophic. EHR downtime is any period during which the system is wholly or partially unavailable. These periods are operationally disruptive and pose risks to patients and staff.While healthcare facilities have always been susceptible to IT outages, the increased adoption and dependency on EHRs and other digital tools has increased the risk of downtime, prompting a greater need to safeguard hospitals with enhanced communication systems driven by interoperable technologies. 

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EHRs Alone Aren’t Enough

Understanding Hospital EHR Downtime Disruptions 

Unplanned downtimes in today’s digital healthcare setting are a painful reality that can severely impact patient safety, reputation, customer service, and trust. These downtimes can be caused by several factors, such as natural disasters, power outages, unstable network connectivity, human error, or a cybersecurity breach. Whatever the cause, the result is a costly and stressful interruption of dire services.  

The average cost of downtime for hospitals is $7,900 per minute, putting these critical entities at risk of exposing sensitive data and patient records, loss of revenue, and hefty fines for HIPAA noncompliance. Hospitals are complex systems that require constant monitoring and management to ensure they run smoothly, so they need a high level of uptime to provide optimal patient care. 

Unexpected downtime events can potentially result in serious patient safety risks since EHR functionality and critical patient information are unavailable for effective care delivery.  

Additional EHR downtime impacts include: 

  1. The Financial Impact: During unplanned downtimes, healthcare facilities typically lose an average of $208,600 in direct revenue, due to canceled or rescheduled appointments and having to stop taking new patients and transfer high-risk patients to other hospitals. 
  2. Delays in Care: A study conducted at two U.S. hospitals found that lab test results were delayed by about 62% during an unexpected downtime. In some cases, delays in patient care can lead to the endangerment of patients or loss of life, depending on the circumstances, so having cohesive communication and a backup of records during an outage can make a significant difference. 
  3. Patient Privacy: If a hospital is experiencing a ransomware attack, they typically cannot access their EHR or patient records anywhere from hours to days to weeks. With cybersecurity threats on the rise, hospitals need to ensure they have appropriate measures in place to help mitigate threats that could compromise private patient data. 
  4. Regulatory/Compliance Issues: When sensitive patient data is compromised, HIPAA and service-level agreement violations inevitably begin to roll in. Any downtime or outage that jeopardizes the confidentiality of patient records violates  HIPAA’s privacy regulations, which can result in fines of up to $50,000 for each violation. 
  5. Reputation and Referrals: During EHR downtime, patient care is inevitably delayed. Longer wait times affect overall patient satisfaction with their healthcare experience, which can cause the hospital’s HCAHPS scores to drop and create less-than-positive word of mouth, affecting hospital traffic. These downtime incidents often require extensive efforts and investment in marketing to regain the trust of patients and their families after a disastrous outage. 
  6. Staff Productivity: A system failure affects everything, including employee morale, disrupting daily tasks, and diminishing productivity. On average, downtime episodes incur costs of approximately $138,200 in terms of lost end-user productivity.  

How Modern Technology Mitigates the Effects of EHR Downtime 

Even if the EHR is down, communication within healthcare systems must keep flowing to ensure continuity and prevent risks to patient safety. One way to do that is by leveraging a secure, HIPAA-compliant communication solution that integrates with the EHR to mitigate the effects of downtime. Not having the right technology to handle communication during unexpected downtime is a costly risk no health system should be willing to take. In 2017, the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas was fined $3.2 million for several HIPAA violations, negligence, and failure to implement sufficient safeguards to protect their patients’ data. Moral of the story: be prepared. 

A platform like TigerConnect has 99.995% uptime, ensuring that care teams and support staff always have a reliable solution to support their workflows and keep communication flowing, even during scheduled or unscheduled EHR downtime. The TigerConnect Clinical Collaboration Platform provides comprehensive tools to enhance collaboration, including sharing patient updates and addressing discharge needs via text, voice, or video. This platform also prioritizes the security of patient data, streamlines operational processes, and expedites response times by promptly handling critical messages, which are vital amid an EHR outage. When these technological capabilities are deployed, hospital leaders can breathe easy knowing that unplanned outages can be handled with care and professionalism that won’t shutter operations. 

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