Earlier this month, the electronic health records system at Boston Children's Hospital experienced an outage for five days, forcing the hospital to use paper and personnel to order diagnostic tests and medications as well as track test and treatment results.

Despite the five-day outage, caused by an unspecified hardware issue related to storage, all surgeries at the pediatric hospital continued as scheduled and with fewer than five elective medical admissions having to be postponed, according to an article in The Boston Globe. The newspaper also reported that digital imaging, patient registration, and scheduling were unaffected by the EHR shutdown.

Also See: EHR Safety Guidance from ONC

“The hospital clinicians . . . immediately pivoted to patient care services that don’t rely on electronic health records,” including face-to-face communication and hand-delivering prescriptions and lab results, said Rob Graham, a hospital spokesman, who also commented that a very small number of additional staff were needed to survive the outage—the longest EHR shutdown experienced to date by Boston Children's Hospital. “Everybody was really reminded that the systems that keep Boston Children’s running are people, not just technology.”

In late 2010, the hospital received a HIMSS Analytics Stage 7 Award which recognizes healthcare organizations that operate in a paperless environment and represent the industry’s best EHR implementation practices.

The EHR outage at Boston Children's Hospital is a stark reminder of the importance of having backup systems and contingency planning in place in the event of a failure. The unavailability of EHRs due to software/hardware infrastructure failures, as well as power outages and natural disasters, is inevitable.

During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, some hospitals in the New York City area were unable to access their EHR systems because of power outages that affected data centers or other buildings where patient data were stored. Staten Island University Hospital, for example, relied on paper-based medical records when power to the building where its data center is located was shut down due to flooding.

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