Orlando mass shooting: Hospital response, HIPAA and emergency prep

Two doctors

Sunday’s attack at an Orlando, Florida night club--the worst mass shooting in U.S. history--put a local hospital's training to the test.

But Orlando Regional Medical Center, which treated 44 of the victims, was prepared, according to U.S. News & World Report. Like hospitals across the county, it had conducted emergency drills for responding to mass shootings and treating trauma victims who have wounds more usually seen in war zones.

"We do weekly trauma simulation, regular all-hospital preps, as well as city-wide simulations that cover all possible situations," a hospital spokesperson told U.S. News.

Typically one trauma surgeon is available on a given night. Within an hour of the attack, as victims were sent to the hospital, six surgeons were in the operating room, USA Today reported.

“It becomes a question of trying to work as rapidly as possible to identify what the injuries are and determine which patients were at the highest risk of dying in the next five or 10 minutes,” Michael Cheatham, chief surgical quality officer at the hospital, told the publication.

Although the hospital takes care of critically ill patients every day, it has never had to handle so many at once and it taxed the system, Cheatham noted. The victims arrived in a span of two hours. In addition, staff had to try to identify patients who were unable to identify themselves. Although hospital staff worried that HIPAA prevented them from providing family members information on their loved one's conditions and the mayor asked the White House for a waiver from the law, a waiver wasn't necessary because the law already allows providers the discretion to provide the information, EMR & HIPAA reports

The entire hospital staff was called in to action, CNN reports. Emergency medical service staff helped insert IVS and rotate patients. The cleaning crew got slots ready for new patients. Medical residents rushed to help.

"The entire team came together," Cheatham told CNN. "Everyone knew that they had to bring their 'A' game."

But the team knew how to respond because of mass shooting and disaster planning drills that took place at the hospital as well as facilities throughout the United States. What once was an annual training session, hospitals now conduct them more regularly since the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

"Hospitals are preparing and recognizing the need to prepare for these kinds of events," Jay Kaplan, M.D., president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told U.S. News & World Report.. "It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. That’s a sad commentary in that it’s a reality."

- read the U.S. News article
- here’s USA Today’s coverage
- check out the EMR & HIPAA story
- see the CNN article
 

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