Information Technology and Data Systems in Disaster Preparedness for Healthcare and the Broader Community

Information Technology and Data Systems in Disaster Preparedness for Healthcare and the Broader Community

Barbara J. Quiram, Cara L. Pennel, S. Kay Carpender
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-356-2.ch016
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In the healthcare and public health community, information technology and data management tools are indispensable in preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from public health emergencies, both natural and manmade. This chapter is divided into three sections. The first section discusses various uses of health technology and data systems in disaster preparedness and response. The second section expounds on technological applications to train healthcare staff for their roles and responsibilities in delivering critical health services during a disaster, as well as to integrate healthcare organizations and providers into the broader community planning and response processes. The chapter concludes with a model that has been implemented to integrate and train the broader group of community stakeholders, including healthcare organizations and providers, in disaster preparedness and response.
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Using Technology And Data Tools In Disaster Preparedness

Information technology and data management systems are invaluable in preventing, preparing for, responding to and recovering from emergencies. According to Mathew (2005):

preparedness functions, including “prevention strategies, research and epidemiologic studies, education programs, rapid mobility and deployment of resources and services, community preparation, remote area planning, medical incident management, disaster site arrangements, communication network from the disaster site to casualty treatment post, training, disposal of dead, vector control, hygiene and sanitation, and psychological interventions,” can be made more effective through the use of technology and data systems. (p. 56)

A United States federal government report, Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response: Use of Information Technologies and Decision Support Systems, identifies potential technology uses by clinicians and public health officials in the event of a bioterrorist attack (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality [AHRQ], 2002; Bravata, 2004). To conduct a review of the literature, researchers classified five broad systems categories: detection systems; diagnostic, management, and prevention decision support systems; surveillance systems; reporting and communication systems; and integrated systems. According to another AHRQ report, information technology supports bioterrorism preparedness in the following ways:

  • Detection and monitoring systems support disease and threat surveillance and collect national health status indicators.

  • Analytical systems facilitate real-time evaluation of live data feeds and turn data into information to identify disease outbreaks.

  • Information resources and knowledge management systems provide reference information, distance learning, and decision support.

  • Alerting and communications technologies transmit emergency alerts, facilitate routine professional discussions, and support collaborative activities.

  • Response systems help manage vaccine distributions, track side effects, and disseminate public health information (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality [AHRQ], 2005a, p. 3).

This first section describes various existing and emerging uses of information technology and data management systems in the health arena for disaster preparedness and response. The uses addressed here are surveillance, to include disease tracking, detection, diagnosis and reporting; communication; volunteers; electronic health records; modeling and simulation; telehealth; continuity of operations; and education and training.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Electronic Health Records: Documentation of patient health data in shared systems that can be utilized by healthcare and public health providers in disasters when paper records are lost, destroyed or otherwise unavailable.

Integration: Interdisciplinary training, planning, and exercising in preparation for and responding to disasters, both horizontally and vertically, within and outside of the healthcare system and at the local, state and national level.

Modeling: Electronic programs and tools that can aid decision-makers and other stakeholders in disaster forecasting, simulation, training and education, and planning.

Continuity of Operations: Business planning that accounts for how quickly workplaces can recover from a disaster to quickly resume or restore operations or to continue or maintain work operations away from traditional worksites before, during or after a disaster.

Surveillance: The ongoing systematic collection, analysis, and dissemination of data about disease.

Disaster Education and Training: Increasing knowledge, skills, and abilities to prepare healthcare, public health and first responder personnel to plan and respond to public health emergencies and other disasters.

Healthcare Volunteers: A necessary component of disaster response that will be needed to supplement the healthcare workforce.

Disaster Communication: Using multiple methods of sharing information with, as well as receiving information from hospital and healthcare staff, first responders, appropriate agencies and partners, media, public, and patients and their families before, during, and after a disaster.

Telehealth: Utilizing an existing technological infrastructure to provide on-site disaster expertise and support; remote management of trauma patients; specialty consults and information services to remote areas; and distance learning and continuing education for community health providers and other responders who are located away from urban training centers or not able to leave their community due to staffing shortages.

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