How Healthcare IT Can Step-up in a Disaster

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s recent landfall in Texas, many healthcare providers may wonder, “What would we do if that happened to our office?” First and foremost, make sure you have a solid disaster recovery plan. Once that plan is in motion, you may find it helpful to turn to additional technologies to help your staff navigate the challenges a disaster can present for you and your patients.

One tech story coming out of Harvey’s aftermath was the use of telehealth consultations to serve victims in a timely and convenient manner. Children’s Health System of Texas set up a temporary clinic to provide virtual health services to children following the disaster. Several national telehealth providers have also stepped in to aid Harvey victims temporarily while health services in Houston get back on their feet. Even if your practice is not equipped to provide telehealth consults, you may be able to partner with an organization that specializes in the service to provide your patients with continuity of care and ensure that you are offering services when they need them most.

Cloud-based infrastructure is another element of IT that can be key to patient care during any event that takes businesses offline. Applications and information that are hosted in the cloud may be accessible to patients and providers even when the physical office is not, due to weather or power outages. However, storage in the cloud does need to make safety a priority due to the recent surge in cyberattacks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services waived some HIPAA provisions in the aftermath of Harvey, but exceptional action like this is taken on a case-by-case basis when it comes to natural disasters.

Simpler technologies such as text messaging should not be underestimated in the event of a disaster, either. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many displaced residents communicated with each other primarily via text messages due to overloaded circuits and downed cell towers. Reaching out to patients and colleagues via text messaging, email, or instant messaging can let them know your latest updates – whether your office is accessible, your staff are all right, and when and where you may be available if you are running services from a different location. If you can send automated text messages through your online office software, like the appointment reminders in Duxware, it is an efficient way to keep in touch with your patients and update them on your practice’s status.

Another handy feature of cloud-based applications such as Duxware is call logging, which allows staff to take notes and make updates so that everyone can stay on top of patient information. If you have patients who are displaced and using a temporary phone number or address, staff will be able to note that and record the most recent conversations with them so that all qualified personnel in your practice have access to that information. 

Keeping patient relationships alive and well during a disaster can present a number of unique challenges. However, that doesn’t mean your practice can’t successfully weather the storm. With the help of a well-thought-out disaster-recovery plan and technologies like those above, you and your patients can make it through a catastrophe with a resilient relationship that will continue into the future.

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