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Hospitals Learn to Maintain Data Continuity and Compliance from Major Disasters Like Hurricane Katrina

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Superstorm Katrina was a wake-up call for hospitals and clinics nationwide. In those days, most medical records were still on paper, often stored in hospital basements. And as you may recall from my piece about Sandy’s effect on data centers in Manhattan, basements in low-lying lands are easily flooded during severe storms. Katrina left behind a data continuity and compliance nightmare for doctors and hospitals throughout the South who had to recreate destroyed records.

The Growth of Electronic Medical Records

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 31 percent of hospitals used electronic health records (EHR) in 2005, when Katrina struck. Only 17 percent of doctors’ offices used them. Today, those numbers are much more reassuring. As of 2013, according to the Office of National Coordination for Health Information Technology (ONC), 85.2 percent of hospitals are using certified EHR systems. After their painful Katrina experience, hospitals learned to make EHR a priority.

Katrina’s Effect on Medical Records

Katrina caused the loss of more than 1 million paper-based health records, according to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). According to federal law, hospitals must keep medical records for five years. The massive time and labor commitment involved in restoring these records must have been overwhelming. Thankfully, federal assistance was made available to transition facilities to EHR, ensuring better data continuity in the future.

Loss of Medical Records: Katrina vs Sandy

Seven years later, EHR adoption was much better. By the time Sandy hit, most hospitals used EHR, and New York State’s health information exchange network made sure hospitals could share that information. When patients were evacuated from Bellevue and New York University Langone Medical Center, the receiving hospitals could simply log on to the system to get vital patient information and provide appropriate treatment. While some hiccups occurred during the storm, not one medical record was destroyed. This kind of data continuity likely saved many lives.

Compliance May Become More Complicated

The problem of disaster preparedness (DP) continues to be a top concern for hospitals and government. After the Sept. 11 tragedy of 2001, the government provided money to help hospitals create DP plans, but by now, budget cuts have severely cut those funds.

Stalled progress in DP has led the government to consider new rules for treatment facilities to follow if they want to receive Medicare and Medicaid dollars. The rule, proposed in December 2013 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), would require 17 types of medical institutions to take an “all hazards” approach to disaster preparedness. It would set minimum standards for these facilities in their preparations.

Some say the rule doesn’t go far enough in its DP requirements, each citing concerns related to their own fields of medicine. The New York Times reports that the National Kidney Foundation wants to make sure backup power is available to keep dialysis machines running. The American Academy of Pediatrics wants to be sure there is adequate backup food and water supplies for family members and sanitation.

Other solutions are available to cover the concerns of all interested parties. For instance, the Joint Commission, an accreditor of health care facilities, has proposed emergency management standards that take care of almost anyone who may be caught in a disaster while at the hospital, not just those who work there. The National Fire Protection Association has a similar plan.

Expect HIPPA-Like Rules to Expand

Most DP focus for hospitals has been on maintaining data continuity and compliance as required under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But those regulations only apply to medical records, requiring organizations to keep updated disaster recovery plans detailing how the facility will protect EHR and restore access to them after an unforeseen event. DP is also important in other areas. Patient and hospital staff safety are also of vital concern.

Given the new interest in DP and the vast number of facilities that depend on Medicare and Medicaid dollars, this could become a growing issue. Because of the large number of stakeholders in stronger DP regulations, hospitals, clinics, and doctors can expect compliance to become even more challenging. While HIPAA regulations generally govern larger medical facilities, these types of rules could be broadened by this new push for DP, creating an even greater need for effective planning.

Continuity and Compliance Solutions from Quorum

Data solutions like Quorum’s onQ appliance, which creates clones of vital records for one-click access to information during an outage, will help medical facilities maintain continuity during disaster events. It can transparently take over from a failed server in just a matter of minutes. Archive vaults will become increasingly important in keeping up with compliance rules in preserving and backing up medical records.

Request a quote from us to find out how we can help you comply with current regulations and prepare for the expansion of DP rules likely to come.

 

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