Planned and Unplanned Downtime – Part 1 – Communication

Standard MOI.14The hospital develops, maintains, and tests a program for response to planned and unplanned downtime of data systems.

The period of time during which a computer system, server, or network are unavailable are considered data system interruptions and are often referred to as “downtime.”  These interruptions may be planned or unplanned.  Planned interruptions are those that are scheduled in order to either perform maintenance to the system or install upgrades or enhancements.  

Downtime, whether it is planned or unplanned, can affect an entire system or may only impact a single application.  Hospitals must prepare all department and service areas with training specific to tactics and interventions for managing downtime in their particular area.  How downtime is managed in the laboratory may be different from the process for management of downtime in the operating theatre.  

When downtime is a planned event, communicating specific information to all areas impacted by the planned downtime is essential. Notifying staff of the planned downtime will allow them to make preparations needed to ensure business continues in a safe and effective manner. Communication in planned downtime should include at least the following information: 

  • The IT system or application that will be down and the department/service areas that will be affected.
  • The time that the downtime will begin and the expected length of time the system or application will be unavailable.
  • The reason for the downtime and what changes can be expected once the planned downtime is completed, for example:
    • Regular maintenance — no changes expected.
    • Enhancement to system.

When unplanned downtime occurs, staff need to be notified immediately upon discovery of the event. The manner in which information is communicated to staff will depend on the system that is down. For example, when the network has gone down, communication via phone may be required.  Multiple communication strategies should be developed in order to address the different systems that may be impacted. In addition to internal communication strategies, it may be necessary to develop strategies for external communication as well, depending on the impact of the downtime to external customers.

Regularly communicating the progress of the downtime, even if it is not good news, is often more acceptable to those affected by the downtime than not communicating at all. When staff are provided with accurate, clear and timely information on a regular basis, staff stress can be significantly reduced.