Responding to IT failures: A lesson from Antelope Valley Hospital

Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, Calif., suffered a data system disconnection at the end of February due to a hardware failure, but responding to the failure was less chaotic than one might expect.

The card in Antelope Valley Hospital's system that communicates to its data storage malfunctioned, causing the hospital to lose connectivity to its storage platform from Feb. 27 at 5 pm to March 1 at 7 am. During the outage, the hospital was still able to dispense medications and continue with radiology imaging. "All systems were up. It's just the connectivity to that database that we lost," says Dale Lepper, CIO of Antelope Valley Hospital.

Mr. Lepper says the connectivity was down for no more than 38 hours, during that time the hospital initiated operating its "downtime procedures," which are backup protocols that the hospital practices between six and 12 times a year. "We have planned policies that we go to in a downtime procedure," he says. "Every department in the hospital has their own downtime plan, which includes converting back to relying on hand-written notes and orders."

For Antelope Valley Hospital, converting back to paper processes was just like another day at the hospital, largely because the hospital still uses paper charts for approximately 50 percent of its processes.

"We are in the process of becoming an electronic hospital," Mr. Lepper says. "We're [transitioning] to meet the requirements for meaningful use and beyond, but 40 to 50 percent [of operations are] still on the paper method."

This means clinicians were, by and large, going about their daily business during the time of the disconnect. "People know how to use paper because we do it every day," Mr. Lepper says.

However, even if the hospital was entirely electronic, Mr. Lepper believes staff would not have had an issue maintaining operations during the outage.

"If we were 100 percent computerized and we had no paper charts, I don't think the effect would have been any different because a hospital that's totally electronic just goes back to the paper processes they used before they went electronic," he says.

Regardless of the state of the health IT transition a hospital is in, outages and breakdowns are possible, and the best thing for hospitals to do is to prepare.

"Every time we do a planned downtime for an upgrade, we follow it up with a hospital-wide critique that involves pulling everybody together to say, 'Did you notice anything or have any difficulties in your department? What can we do to better the process?'" Mr. Lepper says. "Anytime you go through an experience, you learn something. We take every opportunity to better ourselves."

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