By Keith Malone
- Dr. Rahim
- Dr. Helft
Watch for weak links in your backup process
As discussed in the primer for your EMR database backups, multiple methods exist for backing up your EMR server and database to an off site location to comply with HIPAA requirements. However, in most backup plans there are certain weak links that could wreck the whole process.
In the old days, you had to stop the database to take a backup of the data file. That is typically not necessary these days. There are two ways to backup databases in general.
One is using the database programs own backup utility to create a backup file on a fixed schedule, say at 3:00 AM every day. Then this backup file so created, is then copied or "backed up" to portable media or an offsite location or both. So essentially, you are creating a backup of the backup. This is a tried and true method. As you are using the database program's own backup utility, it does a very good job of backing up the actual database file, even if it is open and in use (in most cases). However, there is one not so obvious weakness in the process. In many cases, the Electronic Medical Records database's backup utility relies on an agent to launch the backup process. Sometimes this agent may fail for whatever reason and may need a server restart. Unless the notification of failure options were set correctly, you would be carrying on none the wiser that no backups were now occurring.
The other method is to use a third party "Open File Agent" to directly create a media or off site backup from the open EMR database file. So you are creating a straight backup, not a backup of a backup. This is relatively new, and more importantly, you are relying on a third party vendor's tool, not the database vendor's own tool. The reliability of these methods have improved significantly, but still, failure is not unheard of.
So what is the answer? Realistically, you should make it a point to verify that the backups are working on a periodic basis. It could be as simple as looking at the Electronic Medical Records backup file to see the date on the file as to when it was created or updated. If the date of the last update is earlier than yesterday's date, it is worth checking to make sure your backup routines are running. Some of the newer backup programs also offer email notifications of success or failure or both. These are also good options if you do have a program that has this.
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