Electronic records great except during outages

Keep good supply of paper forms at all times

Laptops and other point of care documentation systems have greatly increased the efficiency of hospice clinicians. They no longer have to travel to a central office to pick up schedules, patient information, or updates from the agency, and they can upload their day's work from their homes. The only warning related to electronic records and laptops from hospices affected by Hurricane Ike is "don't get rid of your paper forms."

"Our office had no power for six days, and many of our staff members had no power at their homes to use computers or to charge the laptops' batteries," says Wyona Freysteinson, RN, MS, director of the home health and hospice at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. "Everyone loaded up on paper forms as we prepared," she says. Staff members were told to use laptops if they had electricity and to use paper forms if they did not, she says.

"We were able to use an office at the hospital until our office power was restored so we could continue scheduling and communicating with patients and staff members," says Freysteinson. Telephone calls were forwarded to the makeshift office at the hospital, she says. "Next time we are threatened by a hurricane, I will rent a small generator to make sure we can stay in our office," she adds.

Because gasoline pumps rely upon electricity to work, Freysteinson told staff members to top off their gas tanks prior to the storm. "Our hospital has a tank that we can use if needed during emergencies, so we knew if staff members had trouble finding gas after the storm, we had a way to get fuel," she adds.

Although the power in the central office of Deaconess Home Care in Cincinnati was out briefly, most employees had access to power at their homes or the second day following the storm at the central office, says Dorean Levenberg, RN, administrator of the hospice and home health agency. Because the agency has a backup server in another state, it did not run the risk of the server going down due to loss of power, so there was no disruption in documentation or billing, she says.

"Luckily, the power in our office was out for less than 24 hours, but we do address extended power outages in the office in our emergency plan," says Levenberg. "My house is the first alternate site, with other staff members' homes designated as backup sites in case I have no electricity at my home," she explains.

Hurricane force winds are not a common occurrence in Ohio, says Levenberg. "These winds and damage caught us by surprise because our weather emergencies are usually related to tornadoes," she says. "Fortunately, everyone knew how to react because they understand our plan and no one panicked."