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Integrating Healthcare Group Notification Systems into Emergency Preparedness Plans

Healthcare group notification systems using multiple channels of communication are the best way to ensure redundant communications and fill potential gaps in Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Plans according to two emergency management coordinators who contributed to a webinar hosted recently by Rave Mobile Safety.

Rave Mobile Safety is the developer of the Smart911 system and several other products that accelerate responses to an emergency. In the summer of 2018, the company surveyed hundreds of emergency preparedness professionals in the healthcare industry to determine their biggest safety concerns, what serious incidents they had experienced, and which systems were being used to communicate emergency alerts to employees, patients, and visitors.

The responses to the survey revealed that many healthcare facilities are focusing their attention on events that do not occur that frequently. In some cases, this may be attributable to state-mandated fire drills taking priority over other emergency preparedness exercises, but the discrepancy led the company to claim gaps could exist in emergency communications that might result in emergency alerts failing to reach the right people at the right time.

The report into the survey´s finding also concluded that, although some healthcare group notification systems are effective at alerting employees, patients, and visitors to an emergency, they do not necessarily encourage engagement. Other healthcare group notification systems experienced issues with redundancy, coordination, and database management which could cost valuable time in an emergency – and ultimately cost valuable lives.

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Severe Weather is the Exception to the Rule

One emergency incident that was both a highly-rated safety concern and a frequently occurring event is severe weather. The authors of the report commented that severe weather incidents are occurring more frequently than before, and that this phenomena increases demand on patient services – both during and after an event. It was noted however that 32% of respondents had not tested their Emergency Preparedness Plans for severe weather incidents in more than a year.

Although severe weather incidents occur on an annual basis, planning for them is not as straightforward as one might believe. Not only may healthcare facilities be unable to forecast how many patients and visitors are on their premises at the start of an incident, a second unknown factor is the number of hospital admissions there may be due to weather-related injuries. This can depend on many local residents have evacuated or the speed at which the severe weather strikes.

Then there is the ripple effect – residents being admitted to hospital in the weeks and months after a severe weather event due to their existing conditions worsening. This can be because they forgot their medication during an unexpected evacuation order, were unable to obtain further medication as pharmacies closed, or unable to operator home medical devices because of power outages. The ripple effect can be responsible for as many hospital admissions as weather-related injuries.

Healthcare Group Notifications during an Emergency

A further variable in the aftereffects of a severe weather incident is how neighboring healthcare facilities have been affected, and whether they are able to supply nursing personnel and supplies to cope with an increased influx of patients, or whether they have capacity to take in patients and reduce the demand on patient services. This was one of the topics discussed in Rave Mobile Safety´s recent “Triaging Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Today” webinar below.

One of the key themes running throughout the webinar is that healthcare group notification systems that use just one channel of communication will fail to reach everybody all the time. The two emergency management coordinators who contributed to the webinar – Kevin McGinty and Patrick Turek – recommended a multi-modal healthcare group notification system to ensure redundant communications and fill potential gaps in Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Plans.

They also suggested the best solution was one that included a virtual command center that could be accessed remotely by everybody involved in the management of the incident. At a time when systemization of the healthcare system is increasing, this will help with the better coordination of resources between healthcare facilities in the event of a large scale ripple effect after a severe weather incident.

As the webinar frequently refers to Rave Mobile Safety´s survey, we recommend you download the report “Emergency Preparedness and Security Trends in Healthcare” before watching the webinar. The report explains more about how the survey was conducted, the roles of respondents, and the communication struggles identified by respondents that prevent their existing healthcare group notifications systems achieving maximum effectiveness.