When the computer monitors whoosh to black in a hospital environment, mass panic is the natural reaction. In a world where everyone is so utterly dependent on computer technology, a hospital can experience real difficulties when the computer system abruptly shuts down.
Patient records, lab reports, prescription instructions and integral e-mails can all vanish in an instant, and given that all this information is needed to keep people alive, panic might not be such an unfitting reaction. But with the right preventative measures in place, hospital computer systems can be saved from the daunting prospect of a prolonged crash and the need for emergency data recovery.
It’s tempting to ignore or delay system upgrades, but ensuring that your hospital’s computer system is up to date is half the battle for avoiding computer crashes. System upgrades are there for a reason. It’s a rapidly-advancing technological world out there, and if your system is lagging behind, then computer crashes are inevitable. Always upgrade your system at every opportunity to help prevent any system shakes.
Another important measure is to install a secure firewall system in the network. A solid firewall can protect a hospital network from some of the nastier viruses that can slip into the system. It may also be able to warn employees when a system is on the verge of crashing – allowing them to prepare accordingly.
One excellent way to help retain patient records, prescription instructions and lab reports outside the system is through use of alternative storage systems. Saving all this information onto alternative storage systems may feel like a testing, exhaustive measure at the time, but it’ll be of essential use if the immediate system crashes. Using systems like Dropbox, the cloud, memory sticks, external drives, servers or specialized health care systems like Bridge Head can keep important data safe in a different location. The data can be accessed through different means if the original system ever falters.
Of course, one of the few positive elements to emerge from a computer-less hospital environment is the way in which physician-patient interaction is intensified. Without the hypnotic hum of the computer system and entrancing glow of the monitors, nurses and doctors are forced to use the naked eye to recognize symptoms of worsening conditions. There’s no screaming bleep from the monitors to alert hospital staff that a patient is in trouble. Instead, every member of the clinical team is forced to observe anyone who has been admitted to the hospital. A tense period no doubt, but it’s something that has to be prepared for in any healthcare environment.
An article in the New York Times compiled by Abigail Zuger M.D. back in 2004 revealed a disaster experienced first-hand in her hospital, when the computer system completely crashed. Within the piece, Zuger comments that while many staff members felt somewhat helpless during the crash, patient-doctor interaction significantly improved as physicians were no longer able to depend on the system for help.
Additionally, Zuger comments that one of the worst disasters she’d ever witnessed was a clerical error made through the computer system itself – proving that no computer system is full-proof. What hospital staff ought to take from this article is how being utterly dependent on one computer system is risky, BUT with prepared measures in place for this eventuality, health care can continue to function without mass panic. Doctors are naturally drawn to patients when the system fails, meaning those patients are having a close eye kept on them at all times.
Every member of staff from top to bottom in a hospital ought to be trained in the eventuality of a computer system crash, and what practical alternatives can be conducted in order to continue to care for patients until the system is back up and running. Downtime procedures are essential for every hospital environment – and they ought to flexible, adaptable, and practical. Constant review of these procedures is also vital. If hospital staff expects this eventuality, crisis can be kept to a minimum.
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