ONC disaster-prep partnership a no-brainer

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Last summer, a report prepared for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT called for the use of health information exchanges to share clinical data during natural disasters. The report, created by the Southeast Regional Health IT and Health Information Exchange Collaboration (SERCH)--a consortium of six Southeastern states including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas--suggested that state HIEs could work together to improve access to information both during and in the aftermath of events such as hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes.

It's good to see that HHS and ONC were listening.

Late last week, ONC and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced a plan to work with 10 states--including the six SERCH states--to boost disaster response efforts. The partnership was a no-brainer from a patient care perspective, particularly given the woeful state of emergency preparedness for states outlined in a report published last December by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The plan, in conjunction with more than $900 million awarded by HHS to states to improve hospital disaster planning, should be a big boost to such efforts, and one that seems long overdue.

While hospitals individually are primarily responsible for their own disaster preparedness, it makes sense to take a preemptive approach to ensuring care delivery on a larger scale. Having the right infrastructure in place ahead of time will save lives and money.

The ability to share patient records across care settings has already been shown to be effective on a local disaster level. During Hurricane Sandy last fall, hospitals that were part of the State Health Information Exchange of New York (SHIN-NY) that admitted patients evacuated from other hospitals in the network were able to provide seamless care for those patients.

Similarly, in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., in May, the use of electronic health records helped patients evacuated from Moore Medical Center--which was destroyed in the storm--to receive continuous care.

"The system never missed a beat," John Meharg, director of health information technology at Normal Regional Health System, told Kaiser Health News. "It would really have been a mess if we weren't electronic."

As I have mentioned previously, disaster planning needs to be about helping patients to maintain a state of normalcy when all around them is anything but. Continuity of care made possible thanks to the IT efforts of proactive states and the federal government certainly is a step in the right direction. - Dan @FierceHealthIT

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