How did EHRs fare during Hurricane Harvey? 5 things to know

Hospital operations at various facilities took a hit in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which struck the Texas coast Aug. 25.

Here are five things to know about how EHRs held up during the tropical storm.

1. Hospitals and health centers using paper records had the potential to lose patient information in the flood. "Even in the unfortunately case of a total loss of our physical facility, which thankfully didn't happen, we could plug in to any location with remote backup and resume normal operations fairly quickly," J. Stefan Walker, MD, who practices at Corpus Christi (Texas) Medical Associates, told Bloomberg BNA when asked about the group's EHR.

2. In this way, EHRs helped to "blunt Hurricane Harvey's impact" at healthcare facilities in the Houston area, according to Bloomberg BNA. Although affected hospitals had to evacuate and direct patients to separate facilities, data sharing capabilities enabled some providers to directly access information related to patients' allergies, medications and diagnostic images.

3. Irving, Texas-based Christus Health echoed this sentiment in an emailed statement to Becker's Hospital Review.

"Our South Texas regions' EHR, both for our hospitals and clinics, remained fully functional during the land fall of Harvey. We only lost connectivity to a few closed clinics who were dealing with power issues. If any of our patients in the South Texas region lost their paper medical records, and they have been a Christus Spohn patient or a Christus Physician Group or Promptu patient, our providers should have their medical records in digital form," according to a health system spokesperson.

4. However, although patient information housed in an EHR may not be lost after evacuation from a facility, data exchange between unaffiliated healthcare facilities was not seamless, Wired reports. Since hospitals and health centers often use different EHR systems from one another, patient information may not transfer between facilities.

5. This lack of interoperability poses a particular challenge when patients displaced from their standard hospital are asked to seek treatment at another facility, which might not have access to their health record at the point of care.

"When Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans in 2005, only about a quarter of doctors in the U.S. reported using electronic medical records," according to Wired. "Widespread data loss won't be as much of a problem for Houston. Today, about 75 percent of providers keep records electronically. But patients still may have trouble accessing their records when it matters most: in the middle of crisis and recovery."

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