Gain the Competitive Edge: Three Crucial Reasons Your Practice Needs an Internet Contingency Plan
By Greg Davis
The health care system has been under tremendous stress during the past few years, and with the continued aging of the baby boomer generation, the system will see increased demand. According to a report published by the Health Resources and Services Administration, the demand for geriatric medicine professionals is projected to rise by 45%. These medical professionals must have the resources to meet the needs of an aging population, and this includes a reliable internet connection.
Having an internet contingency plan is crucial, and there are several key elements that everyone should keep in mind.
Why a Reliable Internet Connection Matters in Health Care
Every industry relies on a stable internet connection, and the medical field is no exception. There are several reasons a reliable internet connection is important for medical professionals:
• To Access EHRs: Nearly every medical practice has gone to EHRs, which makes it easier to access documents remotely and read the information they contain. Medical professionals need an internet connection to access, update, and share EHRs with each other. In an era in which medicine is increasingly a team sport, access to EHRs is more important than ever.
• To Deliver Telemedicine: In an effort to make it easier for people to access the medical care they need, telemedicine has become increasingly popular. However, telehealth visits are only effective if both parties have a stable internet connection.
• To Access Research: Medical professionals need to stay up to date on the latest research in the field. Most medical professionals read research papers on websites such as PubMed. Internet downtime limits providers' access to information and, as a result, can affect the quality of care their patients receive.
• To Communicate: Medical professionals need to communicate with each other and their patients. Much of this is done through VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones, a messaging portal, or email communication. Outages can cause missed calls, missed appointments, and ultimately, missed opportunities to connect with patients.
These are just a few of the many reasons why the internet plays such a critical role in medical practices. While the internet has become much more powerful and reliable during the past few years, it’s still not perfect. That is why having an internet contingency plan is critical.
The Key Elements of an Internet Contingency Plan
An internet contingency plan, also known as an internet continuity plan, refers to a strategy that organizations follow if there’s an outage in their area. If a medical practice sees its internet connection go down, the idea is to implement the elements of an internet contingency plan. Following are some of the most important elements when developing this plan.
One of the first steps is to assess the risks to the medical practice’s internet connectivity. There are a number of potential threats that could be included under this category, such as natural disasters, hardware malfunctions, software failures, and even outright cyberattacks. Medical practices might rank the likelihood of these threats taking the internet connection offline, and they would then have to plan accordingly.
It’s necessary to determine what might happen if the medical practice doesn’t have access to the internet. This is referred to as an impact analysis, and some of the potential consequences include the following:
• Some medical equipment might not function properly, which could place patients at risk.
• The practice might not have access to its EHRs, which might cause doctors to rely on offline notes.
• Depending on the nature of the practice, confidential patient information could be compromised, which could be a HIPAA violation.
• This could open the door to potential legal liabilities.
• The reputation of the practice or hospital system could suffer.
Medical practices must be thorough when they assess the potential impact of an internet outage.
Just as physicians emphasize the importance of preventative care, an internet contingency plan must emphasize preventative measures that could prevent an internet outage from happening. For example, medical practices might employ redundant hardware or software that will kick in if the original set fails. Organizations may also want to employ the latest firewalls to reduce the chances of facing a cyberattack. Employee and staff training is also imperative, as staff members need to understand their role in protecting the organization’s digital security. Updating hardware and software from time to time can help to reduce the chances of a malfunction.
If an internet outage does take place, what will the practice do to recover as much of its information as possible and get back online quickly? This is called the recovery strategy, and it might involve switching internet service providers, updating existing hardware, or implementing other technical solutions. This is another area where consulting with a digital professional can be beneficial. The faster the practice can get back online, the sooner it can meet the obligations it has to its patients.
Test and Maintain
Implementing an internet contingency plan is a journey, not a destination. Once all the elements of the contingency plan are in place, it’s time to test how well it works. This involves simulating an internet outage to see how quickly the medical practice or hospital system will respond. Once the testing process is complete, the results need to be reviewed, and the plan needs to be updated as necessary. Just as computers and software programs require routine maintenance, a strong internet contingency plan requires routine maintenance as well.
How Medical Practices and Hospital Systems Can Ensure Connectivity in an Increasingly Connected World
An internet contingency plan is crucial, so medical practices and hospital systems need to ensure a reliable internet connection with continued access to data. In an era where an elderly population will become increasingly reliant on a flexible, versatile, and consistent medical system, there are several steps that geriatric medical professionals and administrators can take, including the following:
• Have Backup Copies in Place: Having backup copies of all necessary information is crucial. That includes EHRs. For example, medical practices may want to back up copies of their EHRs once every four or six hours. This backup copy should be stored in an off-site location to protect against a potential cyberattack. That way, the records can be restored if the original copy is ever corrupted or lost.
• Have Alternative Power Generators: When a natural disaster strikes, the power could go out, causing the medical practice to lose access to the internet. This is a circumstance where having an alternative power generator could be beneficial. This generator should automatically kick in if the power goes out, allowing the hospital to still power its internet hardware and software. Medical practices need to make sure they have enough fuel to power these generators.
• Have Paper Forms Available: It may have been many years since doctors last used paper records and forms for orders, but medical practices and hospital systems still need to have these available. All staff members, including doctors, should be trained on how to use these paper forms in the event the system no longer has access to the internet.
• Same IP Failover: This is crucial because it ensures uninterrupted connectivity during outages. Essentially, when one of your internet circuits experiences an outage, your IP address remains unchanged, allowing vital applications to continue functioning seamlessly.
These are a few additional measures that hospitals and medical practices can take to ensure they can maintain their operations in the modern era. While it might be unpleasant to think about what might happen without a reliable internet connection, having a suitable plan in place can reduce the chances of the internet going out and can mitigate any potential damage from a loss of connection.
The Need for an Internet Contingency Plan Continues to Grow
Medical organizations and hospitals continue to face a variety of threats that could take them offline, leading to major impacts not only for the facility but also for patients. As the population continues to age, the medical system will face even greater demand, so it’s imperative to ensure that internet contingency plans are in place.
Fortunately, this is not a threat that medical practices need to face on their own, as there are professionals who can help those in need. All medical providers should reach out to an expert in this field who can help them ensure they have a reliable internet contingency plan.
— Greg Davis is the CEO of Bigleaf Networks, a leading provider of network optimization solutions. Davis has a record of scaling businesses through revenue growth, operations, and strategic acquisitions. He has more than 25 years of tech leadership, leading start-ups to $100M+ in annual revenue. He’s been on the board of directors for Bigleaf Networks since 2020.