HHS Offers Hurricane Guidance to Healthcare Facilities

Greg Slabodkin | Health Data Management | September 13, 2017

With Florida still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Irma, a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services has issued draft guidance to help healthcare facilities with disaster planning and recovery for major hurricanes. Based on lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey and others, the document—from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response—provides an overview of the “potential significant public health and medical response and recovery needs facing hurricane- and severe storm-affected areas.” Among the topics in the draft are those covering health information management.

“During a disaster, patients may be separated from their ‘medical home’ and medical records,” states the draft. “Information technology systems may be damaged in the event, and access to the systems may be limited by physical barriers, access issues, power disruptions or other impacts. “Patients being evacuated or moved from one healthcare facility to another need complete medical records transferred with them, but that is not always possible if the facility has experienced significant damage, and paper records are damaged or missing and electronic records are not accessible,” adds the document. “Redundant IT systems and back-up paper records with the critical information are ways to mitigate this issue.”

For those patients at home who are dependent on medical devices that require electricity, they are particularly vulnerable in major hurricanes. However, under the HHS emPOWER Program, the agency provides information to public health officials regarding Medicare beneficiaries who are dependent on electrical medical equipment and at risk from prolonged power outages because of hurricanes...Although this information is made available as part of a pre-event planning operation, according to ASPR “just-in-time” coordination with the emPOWER program is also possible...