November 5, 2012
Each natural disaster emphasizes the importance of electronic health records (EHR) and health information exchange (HIE). Hurricane Katrina is perhaps the best example of what happens when patient data is not stored electronically—records are destroyed, never to be recovered. Paper is not very durable when it comes to floods, fires, and other damage cause by natural disasters.
Fortunately, the healthcare industry learned from that experience and has made significant progress in digitizing medical records. It’s a huge undertaking for any practice, but it is well worth the time and effort. Not only will records survive an unexpected disaster, but a practice will also be more efficient. The government has spent billions of dollars to encourage physicians to switch from traditional paper records to electronic records, and today over half of office-based physicians have an EHR.
In addition, interoperability continues to improve, which is essential to bringing about connected care.
Today, millions are recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, but the damage isn’t as great as it could have been. Medical facilities across the East Coast have spent years converting to electronic health records and creating health information exchanges. Because of this preparation, doctors were able to access vital records, which allowed them to continue to give their patients the quality care they deserved, even while the storm was raging. In worst-case scenarios records were inaccessible because of power outages, but the records were still protected and available as soon as power was restored. This time, patients didn’t have to create new records from scratch after the storm passed. In addition, many practices are now using a cloud-based EHR, which offers further protection during emergency situations because data is stored off site in secure and redundant areas.
EHRs may not provide shelter and food during disaster situations, but they do make it possible to continue to treat patients when factors beyond our control take place.