Opinion: How redundancy ensures medical practice continuity

Those in information technology or engineering circles are unlikely to panic when hearing the word ‘redundancy’, as the discussion is unlikely to involve an employment severance package or lay-off.

In technology terms, redundancy means the creation of fail safes that take over when the primary function has failed. This is common practice even at a component level in hardware devices and allows the desired service or device to seamlessly transfer to another back-up system.

Redundant systems are important to every company, regardless of industry, but they are especially important to those that manage critical information such as medical records. In an ideal world, all healthcare providers will consider the importance of such systems and utilise them to ensure uninterrupted medical care, even in the event of a natural disaster or service interruptions such as power outages or lack of broadband connectivity.

How can medical practices and other healthcare providers ensure their practice can weather any storm? Since many companies have on-premise or cloud-based IT solutions, it is important to ensure that the technology provider has put redundant systems in place, especially in the area of data back-ups.

In addition, many cloud providers offer data replication to servers in other geographical locations, as data centres can also experience service failure.

The use of mirroring and other methods at a hard drive level ensure real-time copies of drives are always available, and that data back-ups take place at scheduled intervals.

The same precautions are taken for on-site systems, even if simply using an external hard drive. For those with servers, a network attached storage (NAS) is recommended. Both will ensure that data is backed up if back-ups are placed on another drive.

Selecting a partition on the same drive is a recipe for disaster as the hard drive will inevitably fail. It's just a matter of when, as some hard drives fail in less than four years.

Mirroring hard drives can ensure business continuity as the failed drive is taken over by its back-up with no interruption in service. The downside is they are difficult to configure for those without technical knowledge. Ensuring data is accessible from multiple workstations is advised as restoring a failed PC can take some time.

With the service provider and hardware taken care of, service interruption is the biggest problem that remains. Luckily, technology can resolve that problem easily.

Power outages can occur and sudden power loss or surges can cause irreparable damage to hard drives, so the best solution is to employ an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that switches immediately to a battery or back-up generator.

In the case of broadband loss, the solution is even easier: have a back-up broadband connection in place using 3G or other mobile standard. A router that switches between the two will ensure that critical communications between sites or patients remains in place, with most not even noticing the temporary loss of the primary broadband connection.

With a little planning, there is no reason why smaller clinics cannot enjoy the same redundancy features as those enjoyed by global enterprises.

Rob Khamas is an eHealth solutions strategist with REND Tech Associates.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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