How health information exchange helps disaster preparedness in Florida
As hurricane season gears up once again, the nation’s coastal regions are bracing themselves for a new round of natural disasters. Florida is no exception: the panhandle state is vulnerable to storms from both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, making it crucial to have a strong infrastructure in place to respond to local, regional, and statewide needs.
Fortunately, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) has had the state covered since 2011 when it comes to health information exchange (HIE). The HIE has more than 95 percent of hospitals and EMS providers in 67 counties participating in the system, as well as a growing number of behavioral health facilities, physician groups, urgent care centers, and long-term care facilities.
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“Our encounter notification service helps us locate people during disasters, especially if they show up at an emergency department or urgent care center somewhere,” said Pamela King, MBA, CPM, PMP, Unit Administrator at AHCA. “When Hurricane Michael hit in 2018 as a Category 5, we were able to use our emergency census to find 400 patients in less than an hour to tell providers that their patients had been relocated safely.”
“We also have a query exchange, or patient record exchange, to ensure that providers have access to medical history and Surescripts prescription history when those people need treatment.”
Unlike many first-generation regional HIEs that cropped up in the early 2010s, Florida didn’t choose to develop a system that stopped at the state border.
“We decided that we would leverage what’s happening through national projects and through the EHR vendors so that we’re not duplicating effort,” explained King, who has worked with the HIE since its inception.
“This is a good strategy for us in Florida, because we have millions of visitors from out of state every year. The more information we have available to us from across the country, the better we’ll be at getting data on these individuals when they seek treatment here, during an emergency or during the normal course of their stay.”
AHCA is continuing to work with providers across the state to get them connected to the system, particularly in the behavioral health community.
“It’s so important for providers to have access to behavioral health data, especially when disasters and crises can exacerbate the conditions that these patients are living with,” said King. “We have a great relationship with the behavioral health association, and they are helping us to educate providers on their ability to appropriately share data with patient consent.”
Natural and manmade disasters can strike any community at any time, so having a comprehensive, coordinated disaster response plan for locating and treating patients is incredibly important.
“Build your partnerships before a disaster happens,” advised King. “And remember that not all disasters happen to the entire state. Local disasters happen, too – think about the Miami condo collapse, for example – and you need to have partnerships with county and local officials to respond to those situations. Law enforcement, EMS, public health – these are all valuable partners for us to have as a health information exchange entity.”
“It’s very important to have these connections in place and to continually educate and practice disaster response so that you’re ready to react when something does happen. HIE helps us stay one step ahead for our patients, and we are very proud to play that role for the people in our state.”
Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.