PACS disaster recovery: IT or not IT?

March 31, 2003

Many hospital IT disaster recovery plans are focused around HIS recoverability, with PACS as an afterthought. In these facilities, PACS exists outside of traditional IT hardware and management infrastructures, with separate administrators, LAN subnets,

Many hospital IT disaster recovery plans are focused around HIS recoverability, with PACS as an afterthought.

In these facilities, PACS exists outside of traditional IT hardware and management infrastructures, with separate administrators, LAN subnets, maybe different data centers, and sometimes different disaster recovery assumptions.

"The core IT department is perceived to exist on the other side of the HL7 gateway and isn't something that concerns the radiology department on a daily basis," said Jim B-Reay, a senior manager at StoneBridge Group, a Minneapolis IT management consulting firm.

Of course, many organizations have rolled PACS into their core IT services and treat it as a peer system with a HIS. But in a number of small to midsize hospitals, PACS was installed by a radiology department and funded and staffed by radiology. The explicit assumption in IT holds that PACS is radiology's baby to take care of, B-Reay said.

The danger in these cases is that PACS recovery is often seen as less mission-critical and more of a departmental solution, like financial analysis tools or nurse scheduling systems.

"It's important for PACS administrators to make themselves present at any and all IT disaster recovery planning meetings and to proactively insert themselves into all disaster recovery plans," B-Reay said.

It may be too much to ask all organizations to fully repair the HIS/PACS rift that may have evolved as a result of the way they were implemented. But each organization needs to have a strong awareness of the role of PACS and radiology in any disaster recovery scenario, he said.

"The most important role that radiology must play in disaster recovery is to partner with IT resources to develop the plan," said Jonathan Thompson, another StoneBridge senior manager.

Although it is true that IT may be able to find a backup tape, put the tape in a drive, and recover lost data, IT does not necessarily know the tolerance for downtime or the ultimate impact to the department.

Radiology should partner with IT to develop departmental contingency procedures and processes that complement the IT systems recovery efforts, Thompson said.