Key Disaster Recovery Considerations for Specialty Pharmacies in the Wake of Recent Natural Disasters

Specialty Pharmacy TimesDecember 2012
Volume 3
Issue 6

Disaster recovery plans are extremely important for specialty pharmacies to address in the wake of recent natural disasters.

Disaster recovery plans are extremely important for specialty pharmacies to address in the wake of recent natural disasters.

Whether operating a single site or managing across multiple sites, planning for disaster recovery is critical for business continuity. In today’s environment, it is safe to say that most specialty pharmacies have established a disaster recovery plan to support their core operations in the event of a system failure or natural disaster. Natural disasters, such as the recent storms that pummeled the northeast, truly shine a spotlight on health care providers’ system preparedness and patient care continuity capabilities.

In response to such events, many health care organizations may now be tasked not only to demonstrate their preparedness for Business Continuity (BC)/Disaster Recovery (DR), but also to ensure mechanisms are in place to support patient continuity of care during this time. While not intended to be a comprehensive listing of all considerations for a specialty pharmacy, here is a brief overview of some key areas for consideration to ensure both objectives are met.

Business continuity plans primarily focus on ensuring the continuation of critical business operations during disruptive events, while disaster recovery plans focus on ensuring systems are continuously in place to support the operations. As a result, a disaster recovery plan is considered part of an organization’s business continuity plan. Relevant terms are defined as follows:

  • Business Continuity: Offer critical services in event of disruption
  • Disaster Recovery: Survive interruption to computer information systems
  • Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP): How to transition to Alternate Process Mode
  • Alternate Process Mode: Service offered by backup system
  • Restoration Plan: How to return to regular system model

Disaster recovery and business continuity plans represent 2 components typically included in a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy:

  • Business Impact Analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Contingency Program Policy & Standards
  • Pharmacy Data Backup and Storage Plan
  • Pharmacy Disaster Recovery Plan
  • Pharmacy Business Continuity Plan
  • Pharmacy Emergency Mode Operation Plan
  • Pharmacy DRP & BCP Testing and Revision Plan

For a specialty pharmacy, key areas of consideration when developing a DRP include:

  • Communications — Phone, Internet, and Fax capabilities are critical to supporting patients and physicians as well as procuring inventory.
  • Systems — Pharmacy Management System, Accounting, Automated Dispensing, e-mail, and Web Portal are just some of the key systems the pharmacy will need to have operational during a disaster.
  • Power — Battery backups and an onsite generator are vital. Ensure that the load on the generator is appropriate and you can refuel it while it is running. Also, have the generator on a maintenance plan that includes running it at least once every 2 weeks.
  • Data — Backups need to be performed and stored offsite. Verify that backups were successfully completed on a daily basis and periodically perform system restores to verify that the backups will work when you need them.

Specialty pharmacies operating across multiple sites have capabilities to dispense across locations following prescription transfer. Single site pharmacies should consider partnering with a geographically separate pharmacy for purposes of support and redundancy during a disaster. Moreover, the ability to communicate activity performed at alternate sites back to the original site will be necessary to ensure the availability of accurate data after a restore is performed.

Lastly, don’t forget to test all the strategies you have developed. While routine testing of existing plans is expected to result in successful recovery of infrastructure and business processes, this process can also identify gaps or errors, confirm assumptions, verify timelines, and help train and coordinate staff.

With increased attention on the effects of natural disasters to local and regional communities, health care providers may feel increased scrutiny on their preparedness efforts to ensure patient continuity of care. As a result, specialty pharmacies should routinely assess their BC and DR strategies to ensure they are aligned well with intended objectives.

About the Author

Jim Maguire is the chief executive officer of BioMed Intelligence, Inc, a firm specializing in health care information technology support solutions. With more than 20 years of experience, Mr. Maguire was formerly the chief information officer of a top pharmacy benefit manager and also led information technology operations at a leading specialty pharmacy. He can be reached at 347-847-3570; jmaguire@biomed-intelligence .com;

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