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The devastating hurricanes that have brought destruction and death to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico should serve as a sobering reminder to healthcare providers that disaster can strike at any time.
Writing in Healthcare IT News, health IT consultant Sue Schade says the impact of the storms hitting the U.S. over the past month underscore the critical role health information exchanges (HIEs) in preserving patient medical records.
Schade recalls watching on television as clinicians and rescue workers helped patients from Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, depart by helicopter to a facility 70 miles away because the city’s water supply had been disrupted by damage from Hurricane Harvey’s fierce winds and rising floodwaters.
“The last step in the transfer process was a clinician giving a folded-up paper to the medic,” Schade says. “She had stuffed it under her shirt until that point so it didn’t blow away in the wind from the helicopter propellers. We know that this critical paper handoff probably happened over and over this week as patients were transferred to other facilities.”
In emergency situations, of course, caregivers will do whatever they have to do – even risk their own lives – to help vulnerable hospital patients. To ensure the best care in severely disruptive situations, however, it is vital that clinicians have access to patients’ records. That can’t happen if those records are strictly on paper or siloed in a hospital’s inaccessible electronic medical records (EMR) system.
“In this age of electronic medical records and health information exchanges, we hope that piece of paper is a backup document,” Schade writes. “Transfers within a health system with a common EMR should be able to rely on the system for access to critical patient information. Health systems that participate in HIEs should be able to rely on some level of data exchange and access between health systems and their disparate EMRs.”
Hopefully the scenes witnessed from the hurricane-battered regions of the U.S. will motivate healthcare IT executives to revisit their plans for disaster preparedness and the capability of their HIEs to serve as a vital link when life-threatening emergencies arise.
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