September is National Preparedness Month, a time to recognize and promote community disaster planning. According to Ready (the Department of Homeland Security public service campaign that hosts these events), this year’s theme is “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.”
The theme is well suited to this year’s most recent disaster events. From wildfires on the west coast to hurricanes and subsequent flooding in the south (and of course the global pandemic simultaneously occurring), we have all seen how destructive these events are.
Healthcare facilities and private practices are not immune to these occurrences either. A disaster of any caliber can disrupt the care cycle, damage equipment and possibly even destroy valuable patient health records.
Now more than ever, it’s important to create an emergency preparedness plan to protect employees, patients and vital information that contributes to the longevity of your business and the quality of care provided.
Here are six things you can do to ensure your business is prepared for one of these scenarios:
1. Conduct a risk assessment
According to Ready, the first thing any business should do when developing an emergency response plan is to evaluate their level of risk. This means identifying potential threats on both a broad and narrow scale. For instance, if your practice is located in an area where earthquakes are common but hurricanes and severe storms are not, you will need to prepare for structural damage as opposed to water destruction.
At the same time, your team must be aware of more immediate threats that can be foreseen by weather services. If a hurricane or wildfire is predicted to impact your business in the next few days, you will need to take immediate action to secure the location and ensure your employees and patients are safe.
2. Have a strong communications system
When a disaster does strike, do you have a plan in place to contact staff and patients to articulate important information? Your facility should have a communications system in place to automatically alert everyone about the emergency and what they should do (i.e. evacuate or not come in for an appointment).
You must also consider alternatives to emails and phone calls in case the internet or typical lines of communication are damaged during the disaster.
3. Check that data backups are working properly
The Department of Health & Human Services recommends that healthcare facilities use electronic health records (EHRs) because of their ability to be backed up securely. This means if your physical equipment, like computers, is damaged during a disaster, patient information remains safe on a private server.
However, EHRs are only useful in these situations if they are being properly backed up. This means a regular download schedule, ideally every night. Check your EHR system to make sure it is being backed up to the cloud consistently and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider.
4. Update an emergency contact list
While contacting employees and patients is a top priority when a disaster affects your facility, there are some other important people you should add to your emergency communications list. This includes your current vendors, local emergency systems and your insurance agent(s).
You will need to let your vendors know to secure systems or skip an upcoming visit and local emergency crews must be aware that your facility is temporarily unavailable for patient care. Adding these important people to your contact list in case of a disaster ensures you’re covering all of your bases when it comes to communications.
5. Understand your insurance coverage
On the topic of insurance, it’s always a good idea to review your coverage to fully understand what your plan includes. After conducting a risk assessment, you may even want to change or update some of your insurance. For example, if your area has experienced more floods recently, you may want coverage for that.
Carefully review your plan each year (especially if you are alerted to changes) so you understand all restrictions, maximum payouts and so on.
6. Continuously evaluate your preparedness
Finally, you should continue to review your risks and company preparedness even if a disaster doesn’t strike for a few years. The Office of the Inspector General encourages healthcare facilities to make disaster preparedness a part of their routine practices. This includes running regular test scenarios of the emergency plan and conducting facility assessments to grade their preparedness. Your plan of action should evolve as new scenarios, techniques and people are identified to strengthen your preparedness.
When you need a partner to enhance your disaster preparedness, Tangible Solutions is here to help. As a provider of cloud-based services, we provide a safe location for your critical patient data and offer additional services like security and backups.
Contact us today to begin improving your preparedness during this important month with a trusted partner.