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Business continuity planning

By Karen Crouch
Business disruption comes in many forms and can be difficult to anticipate but KAREN CROUCH says there are plans that can be put in place to minimise their potential impact.

It is wise to be prepared for unpredictable and potential events that may disrupt business or render premises and staff unable to service patients.

Natural disasters and accidents are generally viewed as the main sources of business disruption. However, some recent incidents triggered by human misbehaviour or fault have placed a spotlight on the need for business continuity planning.

"Business continuity planning ... Is distinctly different from other forms of risk management such as succession planning which may focus on specifics"

In other words, the age of complacency and the assumption that business-crippling events, partial or whole, occur infrequently and will be addressed at that time is over – businesses need to plan ahead.

Business continuity planning is a process by which most foreseeable, disabling events may be effectively managed. While this kind of planning is fairly comprehensive, it should be noted that there will always be severe incidents that simply cannot be remedied through pre-planning – damage to practice premises by an external force, for example.


Business continuity planning incorporates most aspects of business operations and management. This process is distinctly different from other forms of risk management such as succession planning which may focus on specifics.

It is commonly viewed as ‘disaster recovery’, which is true, but only partly, as recovery is the final step in ensuring continuity of patient servicing. Business continuity planning is a backup version of day-to-day operations, performed under abnormal or supernormal conditions.

"Practices should not be complacent in the face of potential business-crippling events"

Here’s a simple example: a new service is about to be launched and backup plans are in place for various essential support services (eg, loss of power). All goes well but when the new service is launched, the practice cannot cope with unpredicted demand from patients!

Consequently, perception of the new service is poor, not because of service quality but because of the inadequate manner in which potential patient demand was planned for.

Business continuity planning should cater not only for adverse (abnormal) events but also for better than expected (supernormal) demands.

Several potential circumstances may be addressed with specific solutions (abbreviated) for each. Some examples are outlined in table 1.


Effective planning requires prioritisation of events that may be rated higher in business impact terms than others (eg, loss of premises versus loss of telecommunications for which alternative arrangements may be more easily invoked).

AFT Pharmaceuticals

Regardless of an unsettling/disabling event’s severity, impact on patients must be minimised as much as possible.

Important elements of sound business continuity planning are:

  • Patient management – Under abnormal or supernormal circumstances, it is vital to explain to patients that service quality may be slower or certain services may not be available at all, depending on situation intensity
  • Internal staff – Staff and practitioners must be prepared to act calmly, managing servicing levels at potentially lesser than normal levels but never deficient in quality
  • Periodical testing – Too many well-documented plans do not work when invoked as they may not have been tested in a simulated environment.

Another practical approach to note is that plans may be commenced on a smaller scale and progressively expanded. Initial plans may focus on most serious possible disabling events, such as single premises loss, and gradually expanded to include, say, loss of multiple sites (lesser likelihood).



Loss of premises, or access to premises

Alternative site (adequately equipped, if available)

Loss of systems

Backup site; externally hosted systems

Loss of telecommunications

Use of mobile phones; wireless access

Loss of business transport

Personal or public transport

Loss of key personnel

Succession planning

Unexpectedly high demand

Forward planning; additional (casual) staff

Table 1. Examples of potential circumstances and possible remedies

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