Personal Health Records: Their importance during Natural Disasters

September 26th, 2018 - By Deeya Ranjan

Doctor with tabletNatural disasters arrive in different forms, usually without warning. Whether these are wildfires, hurricanes, or tornadoes,  it is always crucial to have a plan in place. While initial recovery takes several months, it takes years to recover from the loss of such extent fully. The impact of a natural disaster can be so massive that a large number of healthcare facilities get destroyed and cease to exist. Unfortunately, many healthcare facilities are not prepared for the natural disasters of such high magnitude and have no system in place to manage the potential for a complete loss of all personal health records (PHR).


Are Your PHR Part of Your Disaster Preparedness Plan?

Irrespective of the disaster, people evacuate to a safe place without their health records. Information about their medical history, treatment, and medications are likely to be lost. In the aftermath of a disaster, most health professionals depended on the patients, their family members, and friends to get information on their medical history. In the wake of so many recent disasters,  it’s critical to have a plan in place and the technology to back it up.

An effective way for healthcare facilities to respond to a natural disaster is through the adoption of an electronic personal health record (PHR).  PHR consolidates patients’ history, healthcare documents, medication information, names and contact information of their health care providers, and specific healthcare requirements. If the personal health record is in a cloud-based system, it will be secure and available as and when required.


Health IT Disaster Readiness

In the event of a disaster, many necessary routine activities such as making contact with the patients’ family become a lot more difficult if an effective recovery plan is not in place. Healthcare facilities are required to consider the location of their IT assets, a safety measure to protect them, and a backup of the data. Many leading healthcare facilities usually have their primary IT domain secured, but many small-sized ambulatory care facilities may not have such strict procedures and standards in place. Personal data storage and cloud can boost overall productivity and may also help in reducing operational costs. In a large number of ways, high tech solutions such as cloud storage can be highly valuable during and after a disaster.

EHR data storage empowers healthcare providers to share and have access to the patients’ information swiftly. Healthcare facilities and emergency responders can connect and communicate in a relatively comprehensive manner. Having access to such technologies may range from a high tech solution to the backup portable cell towers similar to those provided by disaster relief organizations. With the popularity of the high-speed mobile internet, health care providers can connect their mobile devices to a computer to access their PHR data. 


EHR Data Storage

Convenient access to patient’s medical history and the capability to simplify internal operations are a few advantages of EHR data storage. Patient’s clinical history along with the patient’s medical history, imaging and lab test results, and specified clinical notes are the significant information that can be secured and conveniently retrieved. Patients benefit as they receive quick diagnosis and better quality of care with a visibly lower risk of errors and faster response and attention from the healthcare providers.

There is a need for a robust security system to protect the information, a robust cybersecurity and data encryption technology can secure EHR data quickly and safely. Previously, most of the healthcare organizations preferred personal data storage over cloud storage due to their IT control over in-house servers. In the aftermath of data loss of in-house data centers, health care providers are now utilizing and implementing cloud storage within their existing IT structure.


Is It Better for Patients to Have a Digital Copy of Their Personal Health Records?

Usually, when you receive an evacuation notice, you are most likely to take your most prized possessions with you, lock the property and follow the evacuation route. You may forget to bring along something essential, which are your health records and failing to carry your PHR can be critical during and after a disaster.

In case you have been recently hospitalized or have had an illness, it is highly likely that your physician would have accessed your medical history through EHR data. This data can be obtained by the patient too via a dedicated web portal (patient portal). Today, most of the healthcare cloud storages offer patients access to information via the patient portal. The patient portal exhibits complete information related to your health condition, your past and current medications, results of lab and imaging tests and also provides the suggested healthcare measures.

Both federal and state laws imply that a patient owns legal security, accuracy and privacy rights about their health records. The doctor in the ER will require to obtain permission from your primary care provider to have access to your personal health information within cloud storage. During a disaster, it can be challenging to get such permission. By having your health records in your possession would allow the physician to deliver appropriate care and treatment as and when needed.

If your primary care doctor offers a patient portal, register and uses these critical features.

Most portals offer the following advantages:

  • Appointment reminders
  • Medication list
  • Appointment summaries, sometimes with patient educational material
  • Secure messaging with your provider
  • Test results

Other ways of maintaining a PHR 

Healthcare apps provide a fast, and reliable mode of accessing personal health data. Health apps for smartphones, which includes Medical ID, makes critical information available via the lock screen for use by first responders in case of an emergency. A medical ID can display medical conditions, allergies, medications, blood type, and emergency contacts. You could go low tech and keep a medical card in your wallet or wear a medical alert bracelet.


Current Possible Options and Future of Personal Health Records

The electronic personal health records are empowering patients to take an active part in their healthcare and bring increased participation with their healthcare provider.  With patient portals, the EHR’s perform a fundamental role in the evolution of electronically empowered health information system. Patients will be increasingly willing to engage in their healthcare and access their records through online platforms. The development of self-management tools for patients will allow remote monitoring and motivate the adoption of personal health records. The actual worth of personal health records mainly lies within the shared data and opportunity for shared decision-making by the patient and provider.

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