Mobile technology, social media changing the face of disaster response

Mobile technologies, telehealth and even social networking sites are changing the face of disaster response. FierceMobileHealthcare, FierceEMR and FierceHealthIT have reported how iPhones and text messaging have been important tools in medical relief efforts following the January earthquake in Haiti, but that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The University of Texas Medical Branch mobilized its vast telemedicine infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Ike in 2008, which ravaged much of the school's service area, including its Galveston campus. In a recently released report, UTMB details eight important lessons learned from Ike, including how cell phones can facilitate remote consultations when patients and medical professionals are displaced.

Still, Alexander Vo, executive director of UTMB's Center for Telehealth Research and Policy, told iHealthBeat, "It would be nice if in the near future there [was a] provision allowing telehealth cross state consult in the cases of disaster and emergencies." Many states currently require remote physicians to be licensed to practice medicine in the state where the patient is physically located, though Military Health System and VA doctors, as federal employees, are exempt from such laws.

At the American Red Cross, social media are "dramatically changing how we do business," Joe Becker, senior VP of disaster services, said at a Brookings Institution event in Washington last week. He talked of how disaster response has moved away from proprietary networks such as those operated by police, fire and medical first responders to a more open system that makes use of sites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate messages and connect people.

To learn more:
- take a look at this iHealthBeat story
- read this UTMB report on lessons learned from Ike (.pdf)