What Hurricane Sandy teaches us about health information exchange

What Hurricane Sandy teaches us about health information exchange

By Dodge Communications on December 19th, 2012

I recently took a weekend trip to New York to visit a few friends, one of whom is currently a med student at New York University.

While we were there, my friend took us on a short tour of the NYU Langone Medical Center and recounted to us the hospital’s experience with evacuating patients during Hurricane Sandy after its backup generator failed. Hospital staff was forced to carry patients down flights of stairs one by one using only flashlights to guide their way as they transferred the individuals to other hospitals in the area.

Not only did these stories leave me amazed at the strength and dedication of the hospital’s staff, but they also got me thinking about the exchange of patient information in disaster situations. While I decided not to give my friends an HIE lesson during our trip, I do think it’s important to reflect on the role of health information exchange during this particular crisis.

In the days after Sandy hit, Healthcare IT News interviewed David Whitlinger, executive director of New York eHealth Collaborative which oversees the Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY), about the public HIE’s role in transferring patient information from inoperable hospitals to those that remained up and running. Whitlinger emphasized the following benefits of the HIE during disaster situations:

  • Providers have easy access to records. According to Whitlinger, hospitals connected to the statewide HIE are able to simply call up the arriving patients’ EHRs using the HIE’s clinical viewer. This gives physicians comprehensive views of the patients’ conditions and treatments at the previous hospitals.
  • Patient data is always available. By investing in EHR systems, hospitals are able to ensure that patient information will not be lost, as paper records prove useless during natural disasters. Furthermore, systems that tap into the virtual HIE network make the records immediately available to providers treating new patients.
  • HIEs offer cost savings for disaster recovery. Whitlinger argues that providers could see substantial savings if they rely on the public HIE as a resource rather than creating highly costly disaster recovery programs on their own. The rise of sustainable HIEs could impact the way hospitals and health systems plan for crises both now and many years down the road.

The efforts of SHIN-NY during Hurricane Sandy shed light on the significance of health information exchange in today’s healthcare industry, but it doesn’t apply solely to crisis situations. As we move into 2013, the practice of exchanging patient information and the sustainability of HIEs will remain at the forefront of industry conversations around care coordination in a value-based care environment. What impact do you think the events surrounding Hurricane Sandy will have on the future of healthcare?