Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have left immeasurable destruction in the southern United States. Families are facing major damage to their homes; some will be displaced for months. Workers and volunteers from all over have been sacrificing time and energy to bring aid.

Now, there is an even greater need to provide reliable healthcare to current patients who are unsure of what they will return home to, new patients who have been hurt, and staff who may be repairing and reclaiming their own homes after long shifts.

Many questions arise for health systems when such disasters transpire: How would we handle the evacuation of patients? Are all of our back-ups in place to maintain current practices without interruption? Are our EHRs designed to help providers care for patients in such conditions? Are we prepared to offer care remotely if necessary?

In the wake of such disasters, we have witnessed anew the mandate of technology preparedness. Data must be stored appropriately and be accessible so that patients may receive the highest level of care no matter the circumstances. Telemedicine enables doctors to care for patients who cannot make it to the office or hospital, allowing specialists to give expertise and treatment plans. Offsite storage of patient data can eliminate the potential failure of EHRs and allow for a seamless transition of care if required.

Here are some tips for health systems in planning for unknown disaster:

  • Identify the scenarios that could happen in your context: wildfires, tornados, hurricanes, ice storms, etc.
  • Assess the capability of your power back-up and ensure it can keep up with regular or increased operations.
  • Locate your data warehouse and note back-up times to guarantee that patient data is secure and accessible in the event of a natural disaster.
  • Check your communication systems to confirm you can reach your patients and emergency workers with facility updates.

Predicting the outcome of any natural disaster is not possible, but you can prepare and learn from health systems that have weathered tragic storms and been able to maintain their quality of care. In the case of Hurricane Irma, several health systems were closed and evacuated patients to other facilities. Being able to open your facility quickly because you have prepared is a blessing to you and your patients.

At RevSpring, we were blessed to help meet the needs of several of our partners through donation portals and communication systems. As President of Healthcare Markets Marty Callahan said, “In times of great suffering, our first instinct is how can we help.” Do not get caught off guard by a natural disaster. Take the necessary steps to ensure that your staff and facility can address the needs of your patients in any situation.

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