By: Tina Chang & Helen Dong PharmD Candidates c/o 2014
Ever been to a conference where all you do is tweet all day? That’s exactly what we did at the New York State Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, where this year’s focus was on the role of health information technology in disaster preparation. Using the social media page Twitter, we documented key ideas and facts that were discussed throughout the day.
This year, the New York State HIMSS conference was held at Lighthouse International in Midtown Manhattan (yes, the place they do screenings for Oscar-nominated films). The conference began with breakfast, a keynote presentation, and a stimulating panelist discussion on lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy. The groups then broke for lunch, in which they were given plentiful food for thought during discussions on pharmacy careers with Erin Mullen, president of RxResponse and Darren Triller, senior director of Health Care Quality Improvement at IPRO. After lunch, the conference broke up into three separate tracks: Pharmacy, Physician, and Technology.
Getting Down to Business with Health Information Technology
Dave Whitlinger, Executive Director of New York eHealth Collaborative, delivered the keynote speech on the Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY); the objective of SHIN-NY is to create a unified statewide network for Health Information Exchange (HIE) in order to improve continuity of patient care. After Director Whitlinger spoke, panelists from New York University (NYU), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Mount Sinai Medical Center facilitated a discourse on lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy. They all emphasized the need for redundancy and testing to prepare for future disasters. The panelists also discussed the importance of having multiple contingency plans for unpredictable situations and concluded that effective communication is the most crucial component in coordinating disaster response.
For instance, when NYU Hospital had to be evacuated in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Mount Sinai opened new units to accommodate the influx of patients. Accommodations included using backup procedures to ensure standardization of care among patients of both hospitals. Pharmacists contributed by converting all orders to paper orders and entering them into the system so physicians that were not employed by Mount Sinai could prescribe for patients that were displaced there. As a result, this standardization prevented discrepancies in care by using pharmacists at the front line. In the end, the success of the response to Sandy was due to communication and cooperation among all members of the interdisciplinary team.
Pharmacists’ Role in Emergencies
Later that afternoon, we attended the pharmacy breakout session and heard from the New York State Dental Association (NYSDA), Dr. Erin Mullen of RxResponse, and St. John’s very own Dr. Vibhuti Arya. Besides learning some fun facts about dentistry and using teeth to identify dead bodies, we discussed the importance of electronic records and off-site storage of important information, particularly in times of disasters when physical records can be completely destroyed. Pharmacist Erin Mullen then took the stage to discuss the importance of pharmacies in disasters. She suggested that every pharmacy is the “face of community healthcare,” as pharmacists are helpful during and after disasters due to their accessibility. Dr. Arya further built upon Dr. Mullen’s ideas by elaborating on what the pharmacy profession offers during disasters. For example, she discussed Point Of Dispensing sites (PODs), which can dispense emergency medications free of charge to victims during times of disaster. In addition, she talked about the Public Health Emergency Response Network Pharmacy Programs (PHERNs), which would guarantee a supply of certain medications in community pharmacies in the event of an emergency. This initiative, led by the NYC Health Department, is still in its infancy, but is currently under development. Dr. Arya also brought to light the availability of immunization and emergency response training offered to pharmacists. Thus, the main message that afternoon was that pharmacists need to be more involved in developing protocols to create a true interdisciplinary care plan that will help communities in need.
The HIMSS conference gave behind-the-scenes insight on how emergencies are handled, both locally from hospitals’ perspectives, and federally from FEMA’s perspective. Furthermore, it allowed us to see how health information technology (HIT) can be integrated in developing effective response systems in case of such emergencies. The conference also revealed a gap in delivering adequate health care during disaster situations, and the opportunity for pharmacist participation. We hope to hear more from the pharmacy community regarding these topics and how pharmacists can be a part of the evolving role of HIT and its use in providing integrated, team-based care. The ultimate goal is to ensure that patients get the most out of their care. Pharmacists have the capacity to make major contributions to public health. Emergency preparedness is one significant aspect and an example of how pharmacists can get involved and help influence the level of response of local, state, and federal entities at times of crisis.