Can Your Hospital Learn Anything from ATL?

Craig Joseph, MD
By: Craig Joseph, MD
Date: December 18, 2017

I write this as I hurtle through the air at 34,000 feet. OK, maybe hurtle isn’t the best word. I’m in a plane owned by Delta, and I’m thrilled to be here. A day ago, the busiest airport in the world stopped – just stopped! – due to a complete power failure in every terminal. The airport that I reference is of course Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International.

As a frequent Delta flier, I find myself at ATL quite often. It’s Delta’s biggest hub, so I have opportunity to hang out there a lot. It has some fine restaurants, friendly people, and even the occasional pleasant view from some of the terminals. My favorite feature of the airport is also the bane of my existence, depending on how much time I have between flights. When I can, I enjoy power walking in the underground tunnels between the terminals. Sure, the train is much faster, but if I can get some steps in, I jump on that opportunity.

I imagine being in those windowless underground tunnels when the power went out. I imagine that I wouldn’t be too happy. Per press reports, for hours, no one had reliable information to give out, so it’s reasonable to assume that many folks quickly went through all the potential dreadful things that could cause the power to be shut off. Fortunately, it seems an unlucky and unlikely series of events caused a fire that shut down power and the backup systems that should’ve been engaged when the main power ceased.

How does this relate to a hospital? One word: infrastructure. That boring, much maligned topic that CIOs, CISOs, and CMIOs like to talk about, but most others find dreadfully unexciting. It is unexciting. But it’s difficult to overestimate its importance. Without planning, dollars, and wherewithal, infrastructure and redundant systems don’t get the attention they deserve.

Backup systems and business continuity planning are boring topics. One might call them sleep-fests. Heck, I might call them sleep-fests! But when the Swiss cheese holes line up, badness ensues. Just ask anyone flying through ATL on Sunday. Or the day after. Hospitals and their IT shops must plan, and then plan some more, for everything to go wrong so that when it does, the electronic health record is still available. And the monitors in the ICU and ORs keep monitoring. And the lights in the lab and patient areas stay lit.

Hey Mr. Hospital CEO or Dr. Chief Medical Officer: the next time your IT leader wants to talk to you about downtime plans or infrastructure costs, do yourself (and all of us) a favor: take the meeting and pay attention. And when something bad doesn’t happen at your hospital and you don’t get called in on Sunday at 2:00 PM, your staff and patients will go on with the business at hand. That’s what it’s all about in the end.

Craig Joseph, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer at Avaap where he works with healthcare leaders to implement and optimize EHRs in order to increase physician satisfaction, improve efficiency, and ensure full value of the technology. Check out the latest EHR Explainer video!

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