Houston health systems rely on robust IT infrastructure to weather Hurricane Harvey

An aerial view shows significant damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas.
Robust IT infrastructure, EHR adoption and HIE agreements allowed hospitals to access medical records in the wake of the devastating hurricane.

Health systems in Houston are relying on their data centers and IT infrastructure to maintain access to medical records and manage patient care in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Harris Health System has established “virtual clinic” in the NRG Center, which opened its doors to residents displaced by the massive flooding throughout Houston. The convention center can hold up to 10,000 people and clinicians from the health system will be on site to provide medical care, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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Harris Health Chief Information Officer Tim Tindle told the newspaper that his team has set up a makeshift workspace for physicians with computers and phones that can connect to medical records stored in the hospital’s data center, allowing them to order medications and input patient data.

Meanwhile, Houston Methodist Hospital has relied on data storage redundancy to maintain continuous access to patient records. The hospital keeps duplicate medical records in its data center and stores an additional copy inside the hospital. Two separate data center access points offer a backup if one circuit goes down.

For those hospitals that have been forced to evacuate, widespread EHR adoption across Southeast Texas ensured receiving hospitals could access patient information, according to Bloomberg BNA. Regional health information exchanges throughout the Houston area coordinated prior to Hiu Harvey to make that data exchange easier. Healthcare Access San Antonio (HASA), which serves San Antonio and Dallas, and Greater Houston Healthconnect (GHH) initiated a special arrangement to be able to exchange data for approximately 4 million patients.

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“Needless to say, these capabilities should be in place statewide for incidents like this so that patient record access in emergency conditions is a staple of care,” Gijs van Oort, chief executive officer of HASA told Bloomberg BNA.

EHRs should be a central part of any disaster planning activities, Andrew Gettinger, M.D., chief medical information officer at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT told Health Data Management.

“Each organization needs to look at what they are at risk for in terms of natural disasters and develop sufficient emergency contingency plans,” he said.

Severe flooding has forced several hospitals to close over the last few days including the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Ben Taub Hospital and Memorial Hermann’s Sugar Land Hospital. Although many hospitals have withstood the storm, Stat News reports it may be weeks before hospitals are back to normal.