Zap! Power Outage at Your Office -- How to Prepare

Gregory A. Hood, MD


December 28, 2016

In This Article

A Practice's Biggest Fear: Losing Data

After an unexpected power outage, the work of completing or recreating absent or lost data can be onerous. The fact that it still needs to be done while maintaining your ongoing workload can be daunting.

I've found that I can minimize these difficulties by printing out "mini-charts" that contain a basic medical summary, last office note, recent labs, and planned lab orders, as well as any other data set that your providers agree on, in advance of a storm. By having these, and a preprinted physical note template, I can maintain the effectiveness of the visit and ease my documentation headaches once the power comes back on.

Speaking of data, the damage that can happen to onsite servers through a power surge or unexpected loss of power underscores the importance of having an offsite, up-to-date, duplicate data storage system. It's also important for one of the practice's managers to routinely check to see that your data are actually being backed up. I've heard of practices that were devastated once they found out after a server failure that their backup system hadn't been active for several weeks or longer. In particular, check and verify that backups are happening in the days after a power outage, especially if you suspect that some equipment might have been damaged by the event.

The importance of backup storage applies not just to patient data, including tracking of referrals, but to billing information as well. Although some downtime for billing staff is probably inevitable, you don't want to encounter an irretrievable loss of billing services, or delays in timely filing and collections. Similar to patient data, the effectiveness of offsite data storage and data restoration for your billing and collections information should be verified through periodic testing.

Battery power will be paramount, too, as you try to continue seeing patients during a power outage, especially in rooms without windows. Otoscopes and other equipment commonly have rechargeable batteries and will continue to work as anticipated, but flashlights often aren't rechargeable and will need fresh batteries. Many people rely on the flashlight app on their cell phones, which can work very reasonably—but the moment the lights go out, phone battery life is going to become one of your chief concerns. Fortunately, the prices for robust, slim external batteries have come way down in the last year. And portable chargers for tablets and cell phones can keep these devices running for days on a single full charge.

In general, most outages will be short enough that replenishing medical supplies or resterilizing common equipment won't be a major concern, though your practice situation may dictate otherwise. These needs must be incorporated into your contingency plan.

Episodes of power loss are inevitable. Our power grid is aging; in some areas, it's frail and vulnerable. This means that power outages must be effectively planned for and that these plans need to be practiced and verified. Your practice's viability, liability, mission, and services depend on proper planning and execution.

A final word: Don't forget to thank your staff for their hard work during any crisis. Throwing a "thank you" lunch, giving gift cards, or extending other thoughtful gestures can go a long way toward building loyalty once the outage and its effects have been worked through.


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