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Disaster Preparedness Month: A Local Look at the Technology Behind Preparedness

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If you’ve been following this series of articles, you’ve learned about the purpose behind Disaster Preparedness Month, the increasing role of EMS (Emergency Medical Services) in preparedness and how it relates to the Affordable Health Care Act, and EMS milestones throughout history. This week, we’re looking deeper into the connection between disaster preparedness and the healthcare delivery system, and how a Portage County company helps unite the two through technology.

Healthcare, public health and public safety are all inter-related. During a disaster, each plays a role to help save lives and reduce suffering during a disaster event. However, due to the fact that they are disparate groups, gaps in the delivery of critical data still exist. For this reason, Health Information Exchange (HIE) now plays a huge role in our health delivery system.

“Disparate groups” refer to the fact that personal medical information resides on different software programs in different databases. For example, most hospitals keep Electronic Medical Records (EMR) for each patient. However, these programs are considered disparate because each hospital has their own software program for EMR.

One hospital in the area may use My Chart, another hospital uses McKesson, and another may have Allscripts or Epic. These software programs are used to collect and store patient data, but they do not communicate from system to system for data-sharing from hospital to hospital — at least not yet; but they are working on it through HIE.

EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is also considered a disparate group. Like a hospital, EMS units use different systems within different cities, and use different software than those of the hospitals/emergency departments they transport to. This poses a problem, because HIE calls for information to be shared from the EMS call into the emergency department and throughout the work-flow event.

With healthcare costs are out of control, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) created incentive programs for providers. “Meaningful Use” is the set of standards defined by the (CMS) Incentive Programs that govern the use of electronic health records and allow eligible providers and hospitals to earn incentive payments by meeting specific criteria.

The goal of Meaningful Use is to promote the spread of electronic health records to improve health care in the United States. Benefits include:

• Complete and accurate information with electronic health records, so providers will know more about their patients and their health history before they walk into the examination room.

• Better access to information. Electronic health records facilitate greater access to the information providers need to diagnose health problems earlier and improve the health outcomes of their patients; and share information more easily among doctors’ offices, hospitals, and across health systems, for better coordination of care.

• Patient empowerment. Electronic health records will help patients to take a more active role in their health by receiving electronic copies of their medical records and sharing their health information securely over the Internet with their families.

Why is this so important during Disaster Preparedness Month? Now that EMS will be the first in the information stream to share your health information — and most EMS get their funding from taxes and insurance billing — they need a system that helps them meet the mandates, gives them the information they need, and follows the rules under HITECH, HIPAA and Meaningful Use.

A local company called My LifePlan (MLP) has the patent to accomplish all of this. MLP (http://www.mylifeplaninc.com) has developed the technology for sharing critical information from the onset of an emergency with the first responder, and the first responder can then transmit this information in advance to the ambulance arriving at the emergency department with little cost to the EMS provider, explains MLP CEO and founder Ruth Skocic of Hiram.

MLP can also help with large-scale disasters in coordination with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), Skocic says. MLP stores critical information about an individual, including current medical conditions, allergies, special needs, medications, advance directives, emergency contacts and more through their MyChoice memberships.

“Think back to the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. If those students had been enrolled in the My LifePlan system, each could have been identified and verified, and the responders would have had their critical data at their fingertips,” Skocic points out.

Imagine a child at play, a person driving to work, or a loved one in a caregiver’s hands when an accident occurs that renders them unconscious. Each are unable to be identified, critical information to help save their life is unknown, and their emergency contacts are unknown.  MLP quickly can share this information with first responders over any communication device on any communication network, using a fingerprint or ID number, and the first responder can use this information not only to help save lives, but to have the hospital prepare in advance for the patient’s arrival.

“The MLP system can stand alone or can be integrated with health care systems, helping link together the disparate groups and closing the gaps in healthcare HIE,” Skocic says. In a large-scale disaster, the same system can be used to help reunite loved ones, give critical information to triage units, and track individuals and their medical needs coming into shelters.

Because HITECH, HIPAA and Meaningful Use all call for information to be secured and available from the onset of the emergency to the emergency department, and to identify and verify not only the role user, but also the patient, MLP was ahead of the curve when they built their system, Skocic explains.

So Disaster Preparedness Month is a prime time to learn more and become better prepared. As Skocic says,”Ultimately, you are the one in control of your information and only you can take the first step in helping save your life or the life of your loved one.”

 

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Estelle R. Brown is a freelance writer who lives in Garrettsville with her family. She has written and taken photos for newspapers, magazines and e-zines for the past 25 years. She also enjoys working on public relations projects, including web content, newsletters, posters, brochures, press releases, and other creative endeavors. She enjoys writing compelling stories about her community as a contributing reporter for the Villager.