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How to Recover Health Data After Disaster

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, July 7, 2011

Despite the progress many organizations are making toward implementing electronic health records systems, there's still an awful lot of paper in the healthcare world. So when disaster strikes--such as the Midwest floods this April or the tornado that hit Joplin, MO, in May--virtually every organization is at risk of losing some kind of data.

A new fund set up by the charitable arm of the American Health Information Management Association, the AHIMA Foundation, aims to help association members return to work to help their organizations recover that data after a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, or other disaster.

When computers or other equipment used to store health data suffer flood, fire, or storm damage, an electronic data restoration company can often save the day. But to ensure they do so in a way that's compliant with privacy laws, the American Health Information Management Association says contracts should ensure the company takes measures not to use or disclose recovered information and uses safeguards to prevent the use or disclosure of the information.

The contract should also detail which methods will be used to recover the data and how long it will take to return the information and/or equipment. And don't forget a termination clause that goes into effect if the business partner violates any material term of the contract. AHIMA has a number of recommendations for contract provisions.

Even when damaged equipment is beyond the help of data recovery or restoration techniques, there are places to look for data, and some can be pieced together from different sources, AHIMA says.

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