Sydney Power Outage Kills E-Health Systems

This article from FutureGov serves to remind us that we should not take the availability of electricity for granted and instead, work towards factoring the lost of electricity as part of the Business Continuity process. Tough as it might sound but natural disasters or human-triggered incidents (such as the one in the article below) can post some serious problems when a health facility goes paperless (well, I can also imagine intensive care units and operating theaters to be just as vulnerable).

Doctors in hospitals within Sydney’s west had to temporarily turn back to pen and paper on 2 May when their electronic health record systems went offline. Around 90 hospitals in the greater western, greater southern and Sydney west areas were affected by the outage, losing services such as email and intranet.

According to the state’s Health Support Services division, which handles IT and shared services such as data centre services for NSW Health, the outage began around 9 am on Saturday morning.

Power utility Integral Energy had been doing some maintenance around the area of Health Support Services’ data centre in Cumberland, which meant that the data centre was running on back-up power. When a circuit breaker tripped, power was lost for 45 minutes.

Health Support Services had to reboot and test programmes before clinical systems could come back online after power came back on. This took till 1.30 pm, with further services such as email restored by 7 pm.

Nine hospitals were further impacted, unable to access clinical services such as the newly rolled out electronic medical records system and patient notes had to be recorded using pen and paper.

Despite reports that some records were lost, no data went missing, according to Health Support Services. “All of our data is backed up several times a day. None of the data was lost,” a spokesperson said, adding that all the outage had meant was that doctors and nurses couldn’t enter new information into the records.

Health Support Services is not sure as yet why the circuit breaker tripped. It now has independent engineers looking into what happened to kill the backup. “The ultimate backup when electronic records fail is pen and paper and will always be pen and paper,” a spokesperson for NSW Minister for Health John Della Bosca said.

Since October, 20 out of 180 hospitals within Health Support Services’ care have been fully moved onto electronic medical records and this number will increase during the 18-month roll-out, which will eventually see all hospitals sporting the system.

About Adam Chee

Health Informatician
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