Healthcare deals with people on an extremely intimate level. While financial sectors might deal with the personal aspects of money, healthcare is closely associated with some of the most intimate moments of a person’s life. Healthcare organisations play a crucial role in the community. They are responsible for the well-being of many people; people depend on healthcare organisations to support life and livelihood.
Birth, death and illness are all in a day’s work for many hospitals and other medical centres. It makes sense that patients want to build sufficient resilience, ensure the continuity of care and develop relationships with those who are there for them. Medical care requires support on many levels, including physical and emotional; having a reliable outlet for medical care is an important thing for many who are seeking health care. It is important that during an emergency, the medical facility is able to remain functioning with minimal downtime. The more downtime a facility experience, the more at risk the patients and the business will become.
The type of care and where the patient is receiving it are of paramount importance. Patients can go through hospitals, medical centres, rehabilitation centres and other avenues to receive the treatment for their illness. Whether it is for acute or emergency care or it is a step-down care service, the continuity in healthcare services is becoming more crucial in the countries facing aging population such as Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore. The demand for such services increases in these countries. Statistics shows that Asia is aging rapidly. By 2040, 16% of the region’s population will be older than 65 as compared to 7.8% in 2015. (Source: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/05/making-the-most-of-asia-s-aging-populations). Better healthcare services and medical advances are required to increase life expectancies.
One thing that can help improve resilience measures in healthcare is the greater use of technology. For example, some doctors are starting to use video chat phone calls for consultations. This makes it easier for the patients during palliative care, or during times when travelling and access to healthcare services are hindered due to extreme weather. Moveover, lesser patients will be present in the healthcare facilities such as hospitals and this enable, at the same time, crowd control to be more easily managed and consultation is still made possible for continuity of care.
Technology also helps to decentralise the task of continuity of care. With the accessibility of the patients’ information through a centralised portal, more part-time healthcare workers, will be able to provide consistent medical advice and services.
For any project to succeed, engaging the senior management and gaining their support is utmost importance. As with many organisation-wide initiatives, business continuity management requires commitment of support from organisational leadership. Senior management form the Crisis Management Team (CMT). This team’s key responsibilities include making critical decisions to activate the business continuity plan when a crisis occurs, and to provide a clear direction to all members to manage the crisis.
There are institutions where the senior executives have a prejudgement that resilience and continuity of operations is a waste of resources given that the medical staff are already so occupied and overloaded. They view this as just another paper exercise. With little emphasis and resources allocated, business continuity is likely put as the lowest priority. It will not be updated regularly to reflect the changes in operations, businesses and manpower. Some institutions also faced high staff turnover. As a result, the previous batch of staff may have left the company and the new staff are not aware of what has been in place. Without regular review and updates, information and data would become obsolete quickly. During peacetime, it is not evident on how important this simple updating can bring awareness to key staff or appointment holders. When an incident happens, it will be chaotic when individuals are not aware of their roles and responsibilities and where to seek help and advice. It could end up being based on gut feel and impromptu reactions that multiple people handle similar recovery tasks while some other important activities may be overlooked.
Getting the support of the senior management will be the first and foremost key challenge that needs to be addressed for business continuity to be successfully implemented.
In healthcare industry, regardless whether it is government sponsored or private institution, saving a life is always more important than winning a competition.
With a business continuity strategy in place, hospitals and healthcare facilities can obtain support from their counterparts in nearby vicinity. They can build collaboration through establishing mutual agreements in support to one another in terms of manpower, appropriate skillsets and medical equipment and facilities. This arrangement facilitates uninterrupted supply of resources which in turns ensures that service levels can be met and ultimately, saving lives can remain as a priority.
Healthcare industry is constantly faced with a high turnover rate. Whether one is in private or public sector, doctors and healthcare professionals tend to move around different institutions during their career. The high amount of daily workload and the limited time available for each patient make it challenging for healthcare professionals to dedicate time to understand the whole purpose and concept of business continuity in relation to healthcare services or continuity in operations. Hence it is important to demystify business continuity programme, making it simple and easy to adopt while reaching out to these professionals. Instead of having them to sit through the entire training sessions, it may be easier to conduct interviews and obtain the important details. Engage them with light-hearted activities such as roadshows or lunch talk or create a Resilience Day will help to create more awareness on business continuity.
Having a comprehensive and robust plan is not sufficient. For a plan to work, all staff members need to know the basic information and their roles and responsibilities. Communication to staff can be done through regular newsletters, email updates, roadshows, trainings or simple posters placed at prominent areas.
It is always important that crisis communication procedures are well updated and communicated to internal staff, contractors and suppliers. For instance , staff have to practice prudence in terms of sharing information through social media or other platforms. They need to be aware that any non-adherence to the correct crisis communication procedures may result in adverse consequences to the organisation in terms of reputation.
It is challenging for healthcare institutions to juggle both continuity of care and continuity of operations, with saving lives being the top priority. However, it is important to recognise that business continuity in healthcare can literally save lives and ensure the well-being of patients. Only with appropriate support from management, the right business continuity solution, and constant awareness and communication among relevant parties, healthcare organisations can maintain operating efficiency and achieve enhanced resiliency.
About the Writer: Henry Ee, FBCI, CBCP, ACTA
Henry Ee is the Managing Director for BCP Asia (www.bcpasia.com). He is a certified professional with more than 25 years experience in the business resilience industry. Henry has developed business continuity and crisis management programmes for the healthcare industry, inclusive of hospitals, clinics and their corporate offices. Currently Henry holds many voluntarily positions including Vice-President of RIMAS, Chairman for BCI Asia Chapter, SEA chairman for IAEM, Member of UNISDR. He sits in the working committee for SS ISO22301.