Sunday, June 5, 2011

An Informatics Silver Lining to a Terrible Tragedy

Although the tornado in Joplin, Missouri was a terrible and unfortunate tragedy, there is an interesting little side story related to biomedical informatics. I don't want to make light of the tragedy, particularly the town having its hospital destroyed. However, an article on the St. Louis Today web site tells an interesting sidebar.

Apparently the destroyed hospital made its conversion to electronic health records (EHRs) just three weeks before the tornado. The EHR system did not miss a beat, and remained running during and after the storm. As such, people needing their records accessed were able to have that done when they obtained medical care elsewhere.

This situation brings memories of Hurricane Katrina, where just about all of the hospitals in New Orleans had their medical records rooms, typically in the basements of their facilities, destroyed by the ensuing flooding. The one exception was the New Orleans VA Medical Center, which was able to keep its records intact through the well-known VA EHR system.

Joplin also did have a health information security breach from the tornado. Although unlike most breaches we read about lately, this breach was purely due to non-electronic records, in particular paper records and x-ray films being blown up to 75 miles away.

This story does not alleviate the terrible tragedy of the tornado, nor does it rebut any of the serious challenges to implementing EHRs. It does, however, show one example of the value of electronic data systems in healthcare.

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