CMS: Databases can be used for disaster planning to aid vulnerable populations

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will allow health information from eight databases to be used to identify vulnerable people who might need help during an emergency.

It will allow disclosure of only the minimum data necessary to carry out public health-related emergency preparedness and response activities, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

For instance, public health data might be paired with data about power outages to identify those who rely on a consistent power supply to receive oxygen or dialysis, it says.

The eight databases to be used for expanded data sharing include the National Claims History, Medicare Integrated Data Repository, Common Working Files, Enrollment Database, Medicare Beneficiary Database, Medicare Drug Data Processing System, Long Term Care Minimum Data Set, and the Home Health Agency Outcome and Assessment Information Set.

Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombings emphasized the importance of disaster planning, though hospitals continue to struggle to maintain the necessary standby services, according to a report from the American Hospital Association. In the aftermath of Sandy, backup generators failed at several New York hospitals, forcing them to evacuate. That prompted worries that such evacuations could become a new trend. 

Budget cuts also have thwarted states' preparedness efforts. A report from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looked at 10 key indicators, finding disappointing conditions in states' ability to provide appropriate disaster response.

For organizations that store health information in the "cloud," attorney Howard Burde, speaking at the 2012 National HIPAA Summit pointed out security issues including:

  • Access to data, back-up plans, and business continuity in the event of a disaster 
  • What security incident procedures are in place in the cloud
  • How physical access to the server in the cloud is limited

An Institute of Medicine report recommends that hospitals and other healthcare organizations have alternate care systems in place that use "minimal resources via electronic means."

To learn more:
- here's the notice