Devices & Technology

Statewide, Real-time Resource Management Aids During Emergencies


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Suzi Birz, principal, HiQ Analytics, LLC

Whether due to global warming, natural disaster or terrorism, emergency preparedness has entered our collective consciousness and become a “hot topic” among hospital administrators and state health agencies. These events can have a significant impact on the community. The effect can pass as the emergency passes. Or, the consequences can continue beyond the immediate danger.

One of the problems facing emergency response personnel, public health officials and hospital administrators is matching patient need with organizations that have available hospital beds, staff and equipment.

EMResource, from EMSystem, LLC, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a real-time emergency resource management system. The system is operated by the vendor, requiring no special equipment or program installation at the participating organization. Internet access is all that is required.

“Someone at the hospital enters the information into a Web page and that information is then available to other organizations and emergency response teams authorized to use the system,” explained Elaine Schweitzer, application specialist for EMSystem.

Schweitzer described the way this system is typically used. An authorized user at a participating hospital would access a Web site. The Web site provides a list of hospitals in the area and reports any limitations, for instance open, closed or divert. At a glance, professionals can match patient need with the organization best equipped to provide the appropriate care. The system can track inpatient beds, isolation beds, critical care capability, psychiatric services and equipment such as vents and dialysis machines.

The system is accessed by emergency departments, emergency medical services, ambulance companies, dispatchers and public health agencies. It might be used on a daily basis or during emergencies, or it can be centered on a particular event such as the Super Bowl.

“While individual organizations were the first to express interest in EMSystem, now many state agencies are using Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) emergency preparedness grants to implement statewide systems for tracking hospital resources and aiding communication of this information during an emergency,” Schweitzer noted.

No where has this been more acute than in New Orleans, Louisiana, where hospitals in the post-Katrina era are often stressed beyond their capacity. Louisiana has implemented a statewide Web site for tracking beds, equipment and staff. Most hospitals in the state update their data and access information on area hospitals only during an emergency.

New Orleans is using the Web site on a daily basis.

“The system has been very successful in New Orleans where the emergency room need can exceed a hospital’s capacity to take care of the patients” said Jimmy Guidry, M.D., Louisiana’s state health officer.

“Knowing the availability of hospital beds, equipment and personnel during a surge of patients allows emergency response teams to get the patients to where the beds and staff are,” he continued. “The EMSystem, already in use in nearby states, was implemented following Katrina.”

Even before the lasting effects of recent natural disasters, New Orleans had Mardi Gras to manage every year. This week, Guidry has been busy with the confluence of Mardi Gras, flu season and an already overburdened health care delivery system.

“If there is a major event, health care providers and emergency response teams will be able to move patients around the state or to nearby states based on the information in the system,” he added.

Making this data available is not without it challenges. The information is not automatically loaded from a hospital system; rather it is entered by hand by the provider, whose responsibility it is to keep the data current.

Schweitzer concluded that the EMSytem is statewide in a number of states, including Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada and Texas.

For more information, please see EMSystem.

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