The Effects of Network Downtime on Healthcare Providers and How to Respond

Keeping Patients Happy

The modern health care provider needs a special skill: juggling. Providers, patients, and support staff are all scheduled carefully to provide quality care. Even outside of providing care, you face numerous tasks for exchanging records, handling insurance, and otherwise keeping happy customers that are required for an organization to provide quality healthcare in a competitive market. Your whole team must be efficient, but flexible, to meet the demands of customers.

Numerous IT services have optimized this balancing act to reduce the effort required for all parties. However, medical workloads can be demanding. For example, modality data can be gigabytes for a single image but still need to show up on the other end of the world quickly the second radiology is done, so a physician or surgeon can make a good decision. But when network resources are not available, your whole organization can suffer from clear and hidden costs.

Costs: Hidden and Clear

Without working technology, health care delivery suffers in two ways.

Frustrated Doctor with IT Problems

First, service delivery gets worse. Everything from appointment setting, check-ins, identity and coverage confirmation, and record keeping can take you much longer. Worse, they can pile up for later, just pushing the time cost into the future. All the while patients are unhappy, and stressed medical staff lose job satisfaction. Nothing moves faster than dissatisfaction through a slow waiting room line. Finally, with physician salaries closing in on $300,000/ year, the cost of wasted physician time alone can add up (Source: https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2018-compensation-overview-6009667#2).

Second, the spillover effects of downtime can strike long after your network is back up. Patients you never saw or who couldn’t schedule appointments may give you a low online rating before you ever had a chance. A backlog of customer record requests piles up when networks are down, costing future staff and provider time. Urgent requests won’t go on hold either, including many medically necessary exchanges of information. Usually all this inefficiency can result in extra “double-check” time to avoid even more errors spiraling into the future.

The Way Out – IT Services

Managed IT Support isn’t just there when things go down; they constantly work to avoid downtime in the first place. And your patients’ expectations are higher than ever before. A decade ago, “slow” and “down” were different categories. Low expectations tolerated slowness, leading to hours or days to resolve. Not any longer. Slow is down – and requires the same immediate attention and concerted leap into action that only catastrophes used to inspire. Even telling a patient they have to use a browser instead of a mobile app may be a faux pas in the future (if it isn’t one already!).

An IT department – or IT company providing those services – become its own special domain with its own expertise required. A simple way to break down these patient and provider-affecting outage phases are Detection, Diagnosis, and Recovery. Root cause diagnosis is typically handled post-recovery. Let’s examine each one.

Detection

Detecting that service is slow or down on a network is more difficult than it sounds. There are typically two complementary methods that each serve an essential role. They are external and internal; internal detection uses agents or other means to measure data internal to your network, such as response times or data throughput. External detection is the opposite – it relies solely on the outside user’s perspective with no access to internal metrics. The most common ways are to simulate web page access or a user attempting standard workflows such as logins or data access on a regular basis. Services like Selenium were written to make this process easier for individuals, but still have to be automated and linked to a warning/alert system that can escalate 24/7 to a human to make the value useful.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is not root cause analysis. This is saved for after Recovery. Diagnosis is just what’s needed to get services back up fast so patients can be served. It could be due to a host of network components. Modern networks are more than cables and a router. Software, firewalls, load-balancers and other components may be involved, whether they are visible or not. Determining which of these is causing slowness requires a breadth of expertise in networks and software.

Recovery

Finally, Recovery gets things back up and running. The simplest case is a misbehaving device that can be rebooted. More likely it is a malfunction or improperly configured device, or even multiple devices misbehaving in concert. All the while, information must be protected from mishandling or loss. In no situation can private data be mishandled or lost in this delicate process.

Your Network, Your Partner, Your Uptime

Expert Heathcare IT Services can make health care provision painless by keeping technology infrastructures up. They are an extension of your privacy and security team, ensuring that your network is up to date, patched, and functioning properly. The standard of due care required by HIPAA and other regulations ultimately falls to your team, but may be done better in the hands of full-time experts. If they’re doing a good job, then network outages will be rare and handled quickly so you can stick to what they do best – serve patients.