Electronic Health Records Blunt Hurricane Harvey’s Impact

The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey is truly unprecedented: entire neighborhoods underwater, homes destroyed, and evacuees overflowing storm shelter. Yet in the midst of the crisis, the Houston-area health-care system has held up, boosted by the robust adoption and use of electronic health records.

The vast majority of Houston-area providers have adopted EHRs, which has helped to support displaced patients and providers, Nick Bonvino, the chief executive officer of Greater Houston Healthconnect, told me. GHH began operating in 2010 and provides care coordination through a network of EHRs that connect providers in southeast Texas.

The widespread adoption of EHRs has been especially important during Hurricane Harvey as many hospitals have been forced to evacuate patients to different providers, Bonvino said. With EHRs, providers treating new patients can have instant access to patient information such as allergies, active medications, and diagnostic imagery. Several hospitals in Houston have already evacuated, including St. Luke’s Hospital and Bayshore Medical Center.

A functional EHR proved crucial to the successful evacuation of over 200 residents from a Corpus Christ-based state-supported living center, Christine Mann, a press office with the Texas Health & Human Services Commission, told me. Twelve out of the 13 SSLCs transitioned to a new EHR system last year, which made the evacuation seamless, Mann said. Prior to the new EHR systems, all medical records at SSLCs were paper-based, Mann said.

On the physician side, EHRs have also proved essential during Harvey. Dr. J. Stefan Walker said his clinic (Corpus Christi Medical Associates PA) is currently closed due to a power outage, but when the power comes back, he told me expects he’ll see a full recovery of patient with zero loss due to his EHR.

“Even in the unfortunately case of a total loss of our physical facility, which thankfully didn’t happen, we could plug in to any location with remote backup and resume normal operations fairly quickly,” Walker said.

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