By Paul Biddinger, MD
Sometimes I hear physicians comment that they think that disaster planning is for those who are based primarily at a hospital.
As it turns out, care in a doctor’s office accounts for the majority of medical care delivered every day. Therefore, private medical practices are also a crucial part of our health care infrastructure that needs to be prepared for and resilient against disasters. No matter what the event, the physical health of our patients, and the financial health of our practices can depend on good disaster planning and preparedness by private medical practices and clinics.
While each practice should assess its own needs, there are some universal steps that all practices can take to better prepare.
The first thing to think about is communication, both with your patients and with your staff. Be proactive in educating patients on the proper way to contact your office. Post this information on your website and include it in your patient literature. Have ready access to contact information for your staff members including e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers. Know how to reach your EMR tech support vendors.
Further, you should maintain a list of local and state emergency and public health agencies so you can keep informed of official information such as shelter availability and road closures. Remember to periodically update this information and to keep a copy offsite. Since power is often down during a major disaster, consider keeping an old-fashioned phone in your office that does not require electricity.
Being able to access information is critical. Take steps to protect your EMR, billing, and financial records. Back-up all data regularly. If your charts are paper-only, devise a plan for preserving and protecting patient information. Check with your insurance company to make sure that you have adequate coverage for disasters likely to occur in your area. More information on protecting your practice is available at www.fema.gov.
Remember, the best time to plan for any disaster is before it occurs.
Dr. Biddinger, a practicing emergency physician, is the Medical Director for Emergency Preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also serves as the Director of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Exercise Program (EPREP) at the Harvard School of Public Health and is chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Committee on Preparedness.