ONC: 5 ways health IT improved hospitals' disaster responses since Hurricane Katrina

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After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the southern portion of the U.S. in 2005, healthcare systems cried out for better coordination efforts, in part driving the widespread adoption of health IT, Andrew Gettinger, MD, ONC chief clinical officer, wrote in an agency blog post.

In 2005, few hospitals in the region Katrina impacted had implemented EHRs, but today, nearly every health system uses the technology. As recent weather events — like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — demonstrate, health IT equips hospitals to respond effectively and efficiently to emergency situations.

Here are five ways health IT has improved hospitals' preparations to deal with emergency situations since Katrina hit.

1. EHRs. When Katrina struck in 2005, many patients' paper medical records were destroyed, but when Harvey struck Houston in August, several hospitals affected by the storm's floods were able to continue to use their EHRs. What's more, because the records are stored electronically, they are typically backed-up remotely, affording providers confidence that patient records will remain accessible in natural disasters.

2. Sharing health data across systems. Systems are becoming increasingly more interoperable, enabling communities to respond and recover from disasters more efficiently.

3. Stronger public health surveillance. Recently, it has become more routine, automated and timely for public health officials to collect data for public health surveillance. Specifically, health IT and EHRs have proven to be invaluable early detectors of disease and aids in preventing them from spreading.

4. Improved IT situational awareness. In the wake of Maria, many Puerto Ricans were without power, medical supplies and communications. The National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved launched the NHIT Care Campaign to help support these citizens, providing them with the necessary resources, as well as telemedicine support, in partnership with public and private agencies.

5. Community resilience systems. IT Solutions are designed to focus on community resiliency. In other words, developers are addressing how IT can provide emergency responders with accurate knowledge of at-risk populations who may need additional assistance prior to, during and after an emergency.

"Many Americans are safer today and our healthcare system is more resilient thanks to new, innovative tools offered by the availability of health information technology," Dr. Gettinger writes. "Progress remains incremental as we work to provide secure access to patient health data when and where it is needed, particularly during disasters."

More articles on health IT: 

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VA seeking $782M to begin EHR overhaul, guarantees 100% interoperability with DOD

97% of healthcare organizations rely on EHRs for QPP - but most say the tech is unsatisfactory

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