For those of us on the east coast and specifically, Florida and the Gulf states, it's hurricane season but in the Midwest it's also tornado season. Earthquakes have been happening in areas other than the west coast and floods have also been serious problems recently. A comprehensive disaster plan can help minimize loss if your practice suffers a catastrophic event.
Tragedy is unpredictable, and no business is disaster-proof. "Minor" earthquakes, which shatter windows and destroy equipment, occur almost everywhere. Fire can occur virtually anywhere and at any time. The same is true of lightning, burst water mains, gas leaks, flash floods, accidents, and, sadly, acts of terrorism. Time is money. If your practice is closed for a day, you may lose a few dollars, but if you are shut down for a week or a month, your practice may never recover.
Disaster Plan Design a well-organized, comprehensive contingency plan you can put into effect immediately, when needed. Anticipating and preparing contingency plans for coping with natural and man-made disasters can make a significant difference in how well your practice survives. Before initiating a disaster and recovery plan, consider the following:
How are patients' medical records kept? Paper or electronic? In the event of a disaster, how could these records be protected? Accessed? Restored?
In the event of a disaster, how will patients contact the practice? What if phone lines are not functional?
What impact will the lack of data lines have on the practice?
Is the practice prepared to handle walk-in patients (no appointments)?
Are arrangements in place to facilitate continued care for chronic conditions?
Employees and Staff
Is there a plan in place to maintain emergency contact information for employees and staff?
Are these numbers stored in a secure place and updated on a regular basis?
Has the contact plan been discussed with the staff?
Do all staff members have access to the contact information?
Do current policy and procedures address work-place interruption?
Have you compiled the phone numbers of applicable local, state and national agencies?
Physical Assets, Equipment and Supplies
How are billing records maintained? If billing is done by a third party, do they have adequate plans for recovery?
Are contact numbers for equipment and supply vendors available and accessible?
What basic equipment would be needed for the practice to function? Are there plans in place to make sure this equipment is stored securely and available in emergency situations?
Is electronic data secured via back-up? Is off-site access to such data available?
Does the practice maintain an adequate inventory of essential supplies (gloves, syringes, etc.) and what emergency sources are available?
In the event that equipment is destroyed, is there a source for replacement units?
In the event of power failure, how will pharmaceuticals requiring refrigeration be stored?
In the event the office is damaged severely, is there an alternate site that can be used to see patients?
Are all property and casualty insurance policies up-to-date and are coverage types and limits adequate?
Is there sufficient insurance coverage for the physical assets of the practice?
Does the practice carry business interruption coverage?
Are tangible property and all facilities covered for flood loss?
Are copies of all insurance policies and agent contact numbers available?
After a disaster, having certain essential records, files, and other materials at hand can help you return to practice quickly.
Routinely back up all computer records on disk or tape.
Have available, in a secure (water-tight and fire-resistant) copies of all essential papers, including your fee schedule, charge tickets, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and patient lists
Also keep secure the telephone numbers of important post-disaster contacts, including your insurance carrier(s), systems specialist(s), and computer service vendor(s).
Consider making arrangements in advance to be able to set up a temporary practice while your permanent practice is closed for repairs or renovations or if you must relocate.
Consider buying an emergency power generator.
The above are just some of the things that as managers we need to think about when setting up a Disaster Plan for our practice. Of course you need to take into consideration your area location and you need to prepare long before "the season" approaches but a basic plan needs to be in place for those disasters that can occur at any time to any practice.
Marge McQuade, CMSCS, CMM is a certified medical manager and a certified multi-specialty coder with over 30 years experience in the medical field as an office manager and coder. She is an active member of PAHCS and AAOC and is on the Advisory Board for several HCPro publications. Contact her at email@example.com