What Should My PACS Disaster Recovery Plan Include?

Posted by Phil Jackson on Jan 24, 2017 4:27:02 PM

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If you don’t have a well-defined disaster recovery plan in place, consider this an intervention! Now is the time to put one in place. A picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) disaster recovery plan secures the sustainability of your practice, as well as your ability to provide care to your patients.

On the other hand, if you already have a documented plan, you should take the time to confirm it covers all the most critical aspects of recovery. (Many organizations often address one aspect of disaster recovery, such as backing up their data, but rarely do they have the necessary comprehensive plan in place for recovering quickly from a disaster.)

The best PACS disaster recovery plans are more holistic and should cover three key areas: data backup, data accessibility and a process for moving data back to your usual environment after the service is restored. Let’s examine each individually.

Is Your PACS Data Backed Up?

You need to have a copy of all your important medical imaging data, so that it isn’t lost in the event of a hardware failure, human error, natural disaster or other potentially catastrophic incident. But what that backup looks like is up to you.

A data backup plan can simply mean taking a copy of all data at regular intervals – once a month, for instance – and storing it on an external hard drive that resides at a different location. While this is better than nothing, it requires someone to maintain a diligent schedule and still does not account for disaster recovery of information generated between scheduled backups. At the other end of the spectrum, you can use a cloud platform to provide an up-to-the-minute backup copy of your data that's always accessible. Most clinics have something in between these options.

If possible, you want a data backup plan that protects your data and makes it readily available at any time. Unfortunately, most practices don’t implement this kind of system because they think it’s either unattainable or too expensive. However, with the growth of cloud services, this isn’t the case anymore; there are a lot of cloud-based solutions on the market that will empower you to achieve this level of preparedness at a very reasonable cost.

If you don’t have a comprehensive PACS backup system because you think it's too expensive, think about the potential costs and reputational damage that could result from your negligence. For instance, losing years of protected health information (PHI) due to a hardware failure.

Additionally, cybersecurity threats are very real, even for those who consider themselves protected from infiltration. In fact, health care organizations have been making headlines as the victims of ransomware attacks, where cybercriminals use encryption to hold data hostage until the medical facility pays a fee – the "ransom."

Unless you’re prepared to pay up, you should have a disaster recovery strategy in place that would allow you to abandon the encrypted data and immediately switch to using your backup data. And even if you do pay, the damage to your reputation could still be irreparable.

Is Your Data Accessible?

It doesn't matter how much you backup your data, it will only ever be as valuable as your ability to access it when something goes wrong. Cloud PACS solutions, however, make backup data immediately available from any device, so you can keep working even after an otherwise crippling incident occurs. This kind of technology stores your data offsite – meaning your data is immune from any destructive onsite incidents at your practice, such as a fire or flood – and makes it accessible when you need it.

If you are performing your own backups and physically storing your information offsite, you have to ask yourself whether or not you will be able to reach the information in the event of a catastrophe.

Do You Have a Plan for Moving Forward?

The downtime your business experiences because of data loss should be as brief as possible. Several factors, however, can affect how long it takes you to pick up the pieces.

Are your data backups stored in a proprietary file format, or are they in a standard file format, from which it is easy to recover? Is your backup environment a duplicate of your usual environment, so it’s easy for your physicians to use? Or would they require training to use the backup system?

These questions matter, because your disaster recovery plan should allow you to continue to offer care and services as seamlessly as possible, even after losing critical data.

Don’t Wait Until Disaster Strikes

You can't prevent data loss once a catastrophe has occurred, so don't wait until something happens before you develop a comprehensive PACS disaster recovery plan. Currently, the best options that exist for disaster prevention leverage the use of a cloud-based PACS backup.

Take action now to protect your practice for the future by considering how to incorporate these updates into your facility today.

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Topics: cloud pacs, data backup, cloud backup, ransomware recovery

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