This fall has once again brought to mind the need to have a regular backup routine and a disaster plan in place for your pharmacy. It makes good business sense as any disruption to your routine means lost time and money, and it doesn’t even have to be huge storm. It could be as mundane as a roof leak at your store that causes you to deal with cleanup and maybe move off site. 

There is another important reason for a backup plan: it puts you and your staff in a position to be a true resource to your patients in a time if need. The pictures from Texas, Florida and now Puerto Rico are examples of people who are putting their lives back together after massive storms, and having access to their healthcare services and prescriptions is vital. ComputerTalk columnists Brent Fox and Josh Hollingsworth talk about this role pharmacists play in the community following a disaster in their Sept/Oct column “Health Information Technology: Helping Weather the Storm”. Thanks to health information technology (HIT), “important information to support the continuation of care” is now available beyond the store walls. In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina washed over New Orleans, cloud-based services weren’t as common. Today, both the pharmacy and its patients are all mobile and ready to use apps to get things they need.

To be available to customers means being prepared. Now is a good time as any to develop your plan. Here are some tips from pharmacy vendors to stay up and running when circumstances aren’t ideal. Also, NPCA provides a useful list of resources at its website

Things to Consider

• First, and most important step, is have a recovery plan and write it down. Include a list of important numbers and keep this in one place.

• Backup services and cloud-based software and services can be a huge help in recovering from a natural disaster and to help protect your operation and get you back in business as quickly as possible. Talk to your pharmacy vendor about what is available as well as look at companies who specialize in data management.

• Utilizing a cloud-based system for your software and/or your backups provides 24/7 online access to your software and data, so you can continue to service customers as usual as soon as internet service is restored. Visit ComputerTalk’s Buyers Guide for more ideas and interfaces offered.

• Schedule backups to occur frequently, such as once a week, or even every night. Store and secure the backed up information safely. This allows you to simply restore from your backup in the event of a natural disaster or other data loss. Remote Backup services should provide confirmation when completed.

• Consider infrastructure improvements, such as installing a generator, and protecting important network equipment so it’s away from flood waters and protected outside the building.

• Cloud services mean pharmacy systems can run off any computer in any location. In 2011 when Super Storm Sandy hit New Jersey coastal towns, Brian Campbell at Campbell’s Pharmacy moved his base of operations to an employee’s basement. Remote backup series meant he could access his pharmacy data and begin filling orders quickly.

• Cloud services are useful for communications too, as IVR can work in the cloud, meaning you can access messages remotely. A failover to a secondary ISP for phone and Internet.

Stories from Real Life

Following Hurricane Sandy, Health Business Systems (HBS) worked its affected customers to relocate them if necessary and to offer equipment and services as needed. At the time Marty Spellman, director of implementation and sales, said the company wanted to provide the level of customer service good customers deserve, especially in the wake of such a storm. 

Pharmacist Richard Longo,R.Ph., president at Belle Harbor Chemists, Belle Harbor, N.Y., covers all these points, including the benefits of the remote backup services by offered by his pharmacy vendor, QS/1. His store was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Within three days of the storm his pharmacy was up and running in a trailer setup outside the store. “We were able to be there for the people of Belle Harbor.”

I would be interested in hearing stories of your own planning process and emergency responses. Please email me and I can share in a blog later this month.