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The day my systems went down

During a recent busy clinic day my entire EMR system suddenly crashed, leaving our staff scrambling to cope with the loss of access to our records. A brief flash, screens flickered, then an ominous dialogue box warned about potential data loss. The chaos that followed, with patients backing up as we managed through various treatment and documentation issues, was a reminder to me that technology presents an entirely new risk to my practice and my patients.

In the days that followed I would learn of similar disruptive events from colleagues, and even within massive hospital networks, where software glitches brought entire systems down and arguably threatened patient safety. In many instances, back-up procedures proved woefully inadequate.

Because technology is central to our practice of ophthalmology, it is only a matter of time until an unanticipated event happens to each of us. This could be at the most inopportune moment, perhaps in the midst of a busy clinic as happened to me, or even worse during a surgical procedure, potentially causing serious injury to a patient.

While we all understand the opportunities medical technology provides to our ever-expanding treatment options for patients, we also must recognize that technology may present frustrations to staff and risks to patients.

When my EMR system went down, it brought back memories of my paper charts and how I was able to adequately evaluate and manage my patients’ complex problems without relying on software that could be compromised or unavailable during the course of treatment.

As bad as the system failure seemed at the time, it forced my staff and me to adapt and prioritize what was best for each of my patients until the records returned.

Ultimately, we saw the temporary loss of our EMR system as a learning experience that would make us more efficient in managing unanticipated events going forward. We implemented new protocols so that the next time it happens we will be better prepared to transition to back-up procedures and manual processes. We no longer fear that a software glitch or power surge might result in a complete shutdown of our patient care.

In this Digest we examine equipment and medical device (EMD) malfunctions and misuse. Some of the issues and concerns arising from EMD events are similar to my EMR experience and some present new and unique challenges. The important takeaways for handling almost any unanticipated event is to (1) implement protocols and procedures ahead of time whenever possible so that staff is prepared when they happen, and (2) follow the advice from OMIC’s risk management experts in order to mitigate the risks of lawsuits after events occur.

As we adopt new technologies we will rely on our team of technicians, nurses, and managers to ensure equipment is calibrated and maintained properly. We must train our staff to handle systems failures calmly and appropriately so that patients have confidence that their best interest and safety are our first priorities.

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OMIC is the largest insurer of ophthalmologists in the United States and we've been the only physician-owned carrier to continuously offer coverage in all states since 1987. Our fully portable policy can be taken with you wherever you practice. Should you move to a new state or territory, you're covered without the cost or headache of applying for new coverage.