How HIEs can improve disaster planning

Since the dramatic shift to electronic health records in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has explored the role health information exchange (HIE) could play in disaster preparedness and response, according to a Health IT Buzz blog post.

Based on stakeholder input in California and along the Gulf Coast (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), a recent report outlines two potential opportunities:

  • Use HIE as an intermediary between emergency responders and hospitals for bi-directional communication. Emergency medical services (EMS) could send data to hospitals from their electronic patient care records (ePCR) and hospitals likewise could send patient data to EMS. In the reported interviews, EMS agencies were especially interested in receiving outcome data later for their quality-improvement efforts.
  • Set up a disaster response medical history portal. During a disaster, health professionals and possibly EMS workers could access vital patient records.

Both scenarios involve working through data standards, interoperability, workflow and policy issues, such as HIPAA privacy regulations.

Disasters, such as the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, have illustrated the need to access patient records remotely because of evacuations or damage to hospitals and clinics.

The report recommends the ONC set up pilots among multiple participants with a standard technology such as Blue Button to further explore the opportunities and potential barriers. It urges the involvement of EMS agencies in HIE efforts. 

The ONC and the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response will work to move these scenarios forward, according to the blog post.

The Missouri Hospital Association issued a report on lessons learned from the deadly Joplin tornado, including the need for redundancy in records systems. In the wake of flooding damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, some New York hospitals implemented water barriers and reconsidered the locations of some services.

Meanwhile, 10 states--Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia--have teamed up to create an exchange for disasters to provide records for people displaced from their homes.

To learn more:
- here's the blog post
- read the report

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