Hurricane Dorian, a Category 2 storm that's said to be headed toward the Florida coast, is the latest natural disaster to threaten U.S. hospitals. While hospitals previously struggled to keep paper records free from physical damage, more recently hospitals have struggled with maintaining EHR connectivity after power outages or sharing patient medical histories if a patient is displaced from their usual hospital.
Here are four things to consider to maintain access to patient records during the storm:
1. On-premise versus cloud storage. Hospitals that use cloud-based EHR systems, and therefore don't have data physically stored within their facility, will likely have their information protected from a natural disaster. However, an EHR that stores data in an on-premise data center will need to assess whether the data center, as well as cables used to connect the data center to the facility, are safe from the storm—and if not, whether new cables can be placed to maintain access, as one New York hospital did in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
2. Transferring patients to other facilities. Hospitals, particularly during an evacuation, may not be able to care for their typical patients. In that event, staff should notify patients when their care will be disrupted. If a patient needs to be transferred to a receiving facility, hospitals must also ensure they will have access to a patient's medical history. That can pose a barrier, given ongoing challenges with interoperability, even outside the context of a natural disaster.
3. Health information exchanges. HIEs have offered one solution to the above problem, helping to fill in gaps in information during previous natural disasters, such as during Hurricane Florence last year. These aggregation services have provided hospitals with patient data when patients are seeing new providers or when providers' EHR systems go offline.
4. Patient medical devices. Patients relying on electronic medical devices such as infusion pumps, ventilators and cardiac devices will face additional challenges in the event of a power outage or when evacuating from a natural disaster. To keep tabs on these patients, emergency planners can track the total number of Medicare beneficiaries who are dependent on electric devices and at-risk for issues during various natural disasters on the HHS website.