How to Prevent EHR Failure and Survive Daylight Savings Time

By: on March 7, 2019

Come Sunday, March 10 of 2019, there will still be some electronic health records systems that can’t handle daylight savings time. It’s like Y2K twice a year, except bad things really can (and do) happen in hospitals that don’t take precautions.

In some cases, EHRs have been known to delete records entirely when the time change occurs, with results ranging from more work for hospital employees at best, and complicated and expensive records errors at worst.

This is a surprisingly huge problem for hospitals, and while you’d think it should be fairly simple to correct, the programming issues behind this EHR failure are actually incredibly complex.

In this article, we’ll talk about why some EHRs still struggle with the time changes, and provide three workarounds that can help your team avoid losing patient data and extra work.

Why Daylight Savings Time Is a Programming Nightmare

I don’t want to assume your level of interest in or awareness of computer coding, but it’s something we have to cover in broad strokes in order to better understand what exactly it is that leads to EHR failure during daylight savings time (DST).

For a more detailed and technical explanation of this programming than we can go into here, check out Datica’s Chief Data Officer Mark Olschesky’s article on the subject.

The one big reason for EHR downtime during DST that I’d like to focus on here is that daylight savings time is not a constant.

As Olschesky says, daylight savings time is a man-made construct that has changed over the years and doesn’t apply universally within U.S.

It wasn’t officially adopted by the U.S. until 1966, before which point states were able to determine their own rules regarding time zones. Even then, states could opt out, which is why Hawaii and Arizona don’t observe DST to this day.

DST changed again in 2005 when a broad energy bill expanded the time frame by four weeks, which meant that beginning in 2007, DST began three weeks earlier and ended one week later.

Since there’s no way to be absolutely sure DST rules won’t change again, EHR vendors haven’t prioritized fixing this issue.

Fortunately, there are relatively simple workarounds that can be useful in preventing EHR failure related to the time change.

Dust Off Your Old Pen and Paper Methods for an Hour

This isn’t an ideal prospect: Switching back to manual record keeping methods for two hours every year is a maddeningly analog solution in a time when robots are doing surgery and chatbots are treating patients.

Still, it’s a proven solution that hospitals are using today to maneuver DST, and, with a bit of employee training, you can too.

In a bit of a reversal, the employees you’ll really need to work with for this training will likely be younger staff who have only ever known electronic methods. To them, relying on paper or other manual records could be intimidating. This could make processes even slower and negatively impact patient wait times and rates of errors.

To prevent this, appoint one person or a small team (depending on the size of your staff) to lead a brief, required training session twice a year—one in March and one in November—that explains the basics of keeping records manually.

Another good idea is to post signs around computers and nursing stations reminding your staff of the time change and the steps they’re expected to take to cover it.

Finally, make sure at least one experienced, tenured staffer (ideally one who has worked on and/or led the trainings) is working during the time change to serve as a resource for other employees should they have any questions during the night.

Talk To Your EHR Rep About Preparing for the Time Shift

When Meghan Roh, a spokeswoman for Epic, was asked to comment on the DST downtime and necessary workarounds hospitals were dealing with, she encouraged users to work with their EHR providers for a solution.

“Daylight savings time is inherently nuanced for health care organizations, which is why we work closely with customers to provide guidance on how to most effectively use their system to care for their patients during this time period. We’re constantly making improvements and looking for opportunities to enhance the system.”

Meghan Roh, Director, Public Affairs for Epic

That’s great advice, regardless of what EHR system you use. Chances are, they’re already aware of any potential issues that might arise during the time change, and they can help you by explaining workarounds that have helped in the past as well as offering insights to come up with plans for the future.

To take advantage of their knowledge, reach out to your EHR representative as far ahead of the actual time change as you can, and talk through any and every challenge you’re facing.

Make Sure You’re Using an EHR You Love

Of course, working with your rep isn’t a great solution if you’re not happy with the customer service your current EHR provides. If that’s the case, consider switching to a different EHR vendor with better customer support.

While a change of EHR systems might be daunting in the short term, especially during the already complicated time change, switching to a system with better support can result in a massive payoff down the line.

To learn more about your EHR system options, you can reach out to our team of expert health care software advisors. After a quick conversation about your unique needs, budget and expectations, they’ll be able to provide you with a short list of EHR vendors that meet your qualifications.

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