The tornado that struck Moore, Okla., on May 20 knocked out Internet communications to Moore Medical Center, the city's lone hospital, a satellite of Norman (Okla.) Regional Health System.
About 30 patients were evacuated from Moore Medical in the south suburb of Oklahoma City to the system's unscathed flagship, Norman Regional Hospital, and its HealthPlex surgical hospital, also in Norman, both less than 10 miles farther south.
Since the main campus hosts the Meditech EHR systems for all three hospitals, even with Internet connectivity knocked out, Norman “didn't skip a beat,” said Dr. Brian Yeaman, a family physician and practicing hospitalist and the system's chief medical informatics officer. “And we didn't have the risk of those paper records flying for miles.”
Yeaman also is the medical director for the Greater Oklahoma City Hospital Council and coordinator of its health information collaborative, a subset of Oklahoma's broader Secure Medical Records Transfer Network, or SMRTnet, a 7-year-old regional health information exchange organization that also was tested by the storm.
Copies of patient records for more than 2 million people are stored by SMRTnet at a Cerner Corp. data warehouse “buried in the side of a large, manufactured hill in Kansas City,” said Joanna Walkingstick, director of member services at SMRTnet. Those records include patient demographics, visits, procedures, lab results, vital signs, histories and physicals, discharge summaries, discharge medications and radiology reports.
“This is the first time we've been tested like this,” Walkingstick said. Network traffic spiked after the tornado hit, and the system “scaled” and “handled the traffic load, very, very well,” she said.
There was a weak link: The lines of the fiber optic cable provider used by Norman Regional Health to connect to SMRTnet were cut just after 3 p.m., when the tornado moved eastward across Interstate 35, the main traffic artery between Oklahoma City and Norman.
The ensuing destruction disconnected Norman from the RHIO until about 10 p.m., when service was restored.
Links between SMRTnet and other network member hospitals stayed open, however, Yeaman said, including to the Integris Southwest Medical Center, 10 miles north of the now-iconic Plaza Towers Elementary School destroyed by the tornado.