Recently GlobalMed’s Chief Clinical Officer Gigi Sorenson and Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Dean Smith presented talks about disaster recovery and telemedicine at the International Conference on Disaster Medicine and Hurricane Resiliency. Hosted by Society for Disaster Medicine, the St. Maartens conference focused on public health challenges after hurricanes.
Any disaster – such as an earthquake, act of terrorism or wildfire – can disrupt normal healthcare services when they’re needed most. “Survivors will need emergency and follow-up care; injured animals will need help,” Sorenson said, explaining that disasters impact health outcomes on multiple levels. “Chemical spills and contaminated water, food, air and soil can cause environmental health issues.”
Now emergency response leaders are turning to telemedicine for help. In fact, GlobalMed has assisted with several major disasters, such as the 2013 KISS nightclub fire, which killed 242 people. A GlobalMed Transportable Exam Station™ (TES) was flown in to treat survivors suffering from arsenic inhalation and burns. After Hurricane Maria, mobile medics and nurses treated more than 150 patients a day using GlobalMed stations, working with providers at U.S. Army and Naval Medical Centers.
Virtual Care Saves Lives After a Disaster
After a disaster, people typically think of immediate needs like food, water and cleaning up fallen power lines. But physical and behavioral health support can be an urgent need too. Some patients lose medications in floods and fires, while others need help coping with family deaths and loss of housing.
Sorenson pointed out that providers working long hours at the disaster site may require their own virtual care. “One physician on the panel was the only trauma behavioral specialist on her island and she survived two Category 5 hurricanes,” she said.
4 Tips for Using Telemedicine in Disaster Recovery
Sorenson recommended training staff on the equipment in advance. “Telemedicine hardware should be mobile, easy to use, lightweight, waterproof and durable,” she said. “And the software must be intuitive and easy to connect in low-bandwidth situations.”
2. Use a secure system.
Understandably, the panel audience asked about HIPAA requirements. Sorenson cautioned that while those standards are somewhat relaxed immediately after a disaster, the software does need to be secure. Cybercriminals know disaster recovery often means an abundance of incoming personal data and will target insecure software to steal information.
3. Follow a dispersed model with multiple units in different locations.
GlobalMed systems are built to move from site to site, as a centralized infrastructure is more at risk. “In the Carribean, different islands will cover for the most affected island to distribute support across multiple geographies,” Sorenson said.
4. Make sure telemedicine stations have store-and-forward capabilities.
Use solutions that can hold and encrypt data, since Internet cable, DSL connections and satellite networks can all go offline during disasters. Once connectivity is restored, the information can be uploaded. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and oil rigs use GlobalMed solutions for this reason.
Telemedicine is changing the game on disaster resiliency and public health outcomes. While every year brings its shares of global catastrophes, telemedicine can connect patients to expert care – and help people survive the most dire event of their lives.