Record-breaking power outages can be deadly for patients with compromised health: 5 insights

Healthcare's reliance on technology makes it more vulnerable to the potentially fatal effects of a power outage, and 2020 broke records for the most hours people in the U.S. spent without electricity, The Verge reported Nov. 15.

Five insights:

  1. In 2020, the average U.S. resident spent more than eight hours without electricity, which is the highest number of powerless hours since the measure started being recorded in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association

  2. Oftentimes prolonged power outages are brought on in the aftermath of a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Ida in summer 2021, or the Texas deep freeze that killed more than 200 residents in February. While extreme weather can have fatal effects on humans, power outages can also have subtle but deadly effects on patients with underlying health conditions.

  3. Many health IT devices are connected to the internet and power sources. For example, ventilators some patients need to breathe need a power outlet, and an at-home blood pressure cuff might need wifi to monitor results. When the power goes out, these devices become inoperative. People who run generators for long stretches can also be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if the devices are not set up properly, The Verge reported.

  4. There can also be less direct links between power outages and fatalities. For example, a patient with heart disease who has been sitting in the heat without air conditioning could be more at risk for a heart attack.

  5. Research has indicated that hospitalization rates grow after blackouts or natural disasters. Data on a 30-hour citywide blackout in New York City in 2003 indicated that deaths and hospitalizations for kidney and respiratory problems increased, as did overall deaths.

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