Can your practice survive a disaster?

December 15, 2005

Many of the thousands of professional practices and businesses destroyed by the catastrophic effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita will never reopen their doors. However, many others are already back in operation and on their way to a healthy recovery.

The difference?

In most cases, say the experts, the fortunate ones are those who had a disaster preparation and recovery plan to guide them through that traumatic time.

The key to minimizing that risk is a well-thought-out plan of action in the event that disaster strikes.

Here are some steps you can take to help you and your practice to avoid or recover from a catastrophic loss:

Prepare for recovery

"Every physician needs to have a disaster preparation and recovery plan, even if the practice is located in a relatively low-risk area for natural disasters," says Gene Fairbrother, consultant to the National Association for the Self-Employed and an expert in disaster planning. "Even if it is not formally written down, you need to consider how you will continue operating if disaster strikes."

Your plan shouldn't be a cumbersome, complex project, according to Fairbrother. "To be effective," he says, "it should be a model of clarity, understood by everyone."

Refresh your plan

Whether it's in writing or not, it is important to refresh your plan periodically. "Some basics of a disaster plan seldom change," he says. "For example, your evacuation destination, or the first things you'd grab on your way out if you had to evacuate in a hurry. However, other things do change, like contact information on patients, medical histories, and places to find replacement equipment. Review your disaster plan at least once a year to make sure it still works for your practice."

"It's important to make your disaster plan a permanent part of your operating philosophy," says Fairbrother. "However, it often takes another set of eyes and ears to point out the cracks in a plan, or to spot missing components. That's why you should share it with someone else, especially your partners or employees. They may find a flaw or an important step that you missed.

"Beyond the possibility that you might owe some employees a paycheck, you would have little or no legal obligation to employees if the practice closes due to a disaster," he says. "Still, you need to make your employees part of your disaster plan. Failing to do so will hinder your ability to get the practice back up and running if disaster should strike."

Maintain an off-site backup

According to one estimate, 90% of all business records are now electronic. That makes protection and recovery of vital business information easier, provided a careful system of backing up is in place.

Most physicians have learned the importance of backing up the business information on their computers, but not everyone does a complete job.