Social media key in enabling quick provider response to Boston bombings

In the wake of two explosions that rocked downtown Boston at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, technology and social media played a critical role in the coordination of care efforts.

John Halamka (right), CIO at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and FierceHealthIT Editorial Advisory Board member, told FierceHealthIT that from his perspective, maintaining a high bandwidth was key for employees at his hospital in keeping care efforts as fluent as possible, as was a reliable and secure infrastructure.

"The demand for communication--voice, email, social media and streaming video--was very high," Halamka said. "The scalability built into the design of all our systems--networks, servers, storage and client devices--served us well."

Several hospitals--including Massachusetts General Hospital and Tufts Medical Center--took to Twitter to update the public about everything from patient counts to reported suspicious activity. Children's Hospital Boston also posted advice for talking to children after tragedies on its pediatric health blog.

Hospitals also used their Facebook accounts to keep the public apprised of such announcements. "All clinics are open today, but please allow extra time to get to your appointment due to the marathon incident," a post to the Tufts account said. The update added that bags and vehicles were being checked as a precaution.

Brigham and Women's Hospital used its Facebook page to post that it was experiencing an "influx of blood donors," and asked that potential donors try to schedule appointments at a nearby blood donor center.

Selim Suner (left), director of Disaster Medicine and Emergency Preparedness in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rhode Island Hospital, told FierceHealthcare that in disaster management situations, it has a computerized system that uses electronic bracelets to track patients.

"The hospital knows, as soon as the patient is assigned to that hospital, where that patient is coming from and some key information about the patient regarding injuries so it can preplan on how many patients it's getting, what the severities are and how it can allocate the resources to manage that patient," Suner said. "It's very important because then the hospital has a record of who the patients are and where they came from so that they could match up that with family members who are looking for those patients.

"Particularly at yesterday's events, people were scattered around, family members may have been separated, so in developing call centers, that information can guide where the patients are, which hospitals they went to, and keep track of the patients throughout their care."

Google activated its Person Finder tool shortly after the explosion, which was built following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, according to Mashable. The Red Cross activated a similar tool dubbed "Safe and Well."