In your personal life, downtime is great: sitting on a beach, sipping a fruity drink, and doing absolutely nothing. But when it comes to the physical therapy software you use in your professional life as a PT, the last thing you want is downtime. Yet, the sinking feeling of receiving an email from your vendor alerting you to yet another downtime—or worse, logging in to see that the system is down—may be all too familiar. You need your software to work—or else you can’t. And that begs the question, “How much downtime should your physical therapy software actually experience?”
Some companies experience frequent—yet brief—periods of downtime. Others experience chunks of sustained downtime—like Epic EMR, which was out for nearly two days in 2014. In fact, the issue of downtime is so prevalent in the healthcare industry that For the Record magazine even created an emergency downtime plan. But, when it comes “down” to it, system-wide downtime in a web-based EMR shouldn’t happen very often at all. In fact, some EMR vendors—like WebPT—pride themselves on an uptime rate of over 99%.
And that statistic certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to Fortune magazine, “There is a phrase in information technology called “five nines,” referring to 99.999% uptime, or about 5.26 minutes of downtime per year. Some have called it the “holy grail” of service availability; others have have called it only a myth. (It is not.).” Keep in mind that this rate does indicate a small amount of downtime—and that’s to be expected. Vendors have to perform maintenance, after all, and that requires downtime. But your vendor should always alert you to any maintenance downtime before it happens. Moreover, planned downtime should be set during low-use hours.
While we’re at it, I should mention that not all downtime is your vendor’s fault. Although modern Internet speeds are speedy enough to fit your EMR’s ideal configuration, issues with your individual Internet provider can cause outages. If you experience this type of downtime, take steps to prevent it by installing a backup Internet solution, like a mobile hotspot device. However, if your Internet connection is just fine, it probably isn’t responsible for all that downtime you’re experiencing.
Ultimately, healthcare providers have a choice. As using an EMR becomes the norm and not the exception, downtime will become an important—and pronounced—distinction between vendors. Don’t settle for prolonged downtime (like this unfortunate practice did) when you could be working with an EMR that anticipates—and adjusts for—your needs.