Wireless, laptops can work after disaster

The experience at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, MO, after the tornado is an excellent example of how electronic health records (EHRs) can improve disaster response if the system is structured correctly, says Elliot Davis, internet security officer and director of information technology at Beaumont Health System in Grosse Pointe, MI. The key is to have the data accessible from a distant location, as St. John's did, or on "the cloud," in which data is stored on another company's servers or spread through the Internet, Davis says.

Beaumont's emergency preparations include keeping on hand several laptops equipped for wireless communication. "As long as we have one network connection and some access points, we can start triaging patients very quickly," Davis says. "So not only do we have medical equipment and supplies in the triage tents set up outside in the parking lot, but we also have their medical records there electronically."

The system also allows Beaumont to provide care at a remote location for other reasons, such as patients that should be decontaminated in the field before being brought to the hospital. Davis says EHRs will always be more useful than traditional records after a disaster as long as it is possible to make a network connection to a distant site, which proved possible even in the immediate aftermath of the Joplin tornado. "After a disaster there is a lot of chaos, and if you can get those wristbands into an electronic record system, you can quickly identify what they're here for and hook that up to their EHR. If it is your patient, you get access to their entire medical history quickly," he says. "If you have paper records, you have to bring those out into the parking lot, find the right records, and match them with the person. Then you still have the question of how that record moves through the system with them and how do you update it."

In addition, he says, paper records can get lost in transit, documents can get out of order, and lab results can be lost.

"Your clinicians can use essentially the same system they use every day, even if they are standing out in the parking lot after a tornado or if they are out in a field somewhere after a plane crash," Davis says. "We also have a BYOD system — bring your own device — that allows doctors and others to bring their iPads and laptops with them to a disaster. We hook them up to the wireless and they have it with them all the time, so they can focus on caring for patients rather than learning how to do paperwork after a disaster."


Elliot Davis, Internet Security Officer and Director of Information Technology, Beaumont Health System, Grosse Pointe, MI. Telephone: (248) 733-7337. E-mail: EDavis@Beaumont.edu.