Quick data recovery as standard of care

Improved technology is creating an obligation for healthcare providers to recover patient data soon after a disaster, says Gary L. Kaplan, JD, an attorney with the law firm of Thorp Reed & Armstrong in Pittsburgh.

That change means that healthcare providers who lag behind in adopting electronic health records (EHRs), and in structuring their system to provide quick emergency access, could face potential liability for resulting harm to patients, Kaplan says.

"I'm not aware of anyone being sued for failing to have electronic access to records after a disaster yet, but I think that could come," he says. "It is increasingly considered part of the standard of care to have an effective disaster recovery program, and that includes access to vital patient data."

Expectations were different only a few years ago, Kaplan says. When paper records were the norm and EHRs were not a realistic option, the public would not have been as quick to expect access to patient records immediately after a tornado or earthquake, for instance. When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Kaplan notes, several hospitals were total losses, and patient records could not be recovered. "We're getting close to a point where that will not be accepted anymore," Kaplan says. "If a patient dies because key information about the medical history or medication use was unavailable after a disaster, we're likely to see plaintiffs or regulators ask why."


Gary L. Kaplan, JD, Thorp Reed & Armstrong, Pittsburgh. Telephone: (412) 394-7740. E-mail: gkaplan@thorpreed.com.