Although approaches to medical preparedness for natural disasters have drastically improved since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, newer approaches to preparedness must be developed continuously to improve healthcare responsiveness in the wake of future storms, according to an opinion article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
A proactive, all-hazards approach to natural disaster preparedness has been the standard in the United States since Hurricane Katrina. Using this approach, healthcare systems have the ability respond to a number of natural, radiologic, chemical, biologic, or nuclear events that might occur in a community. Establishment of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the US Department of Health and Human Services has facilitated structural changes within the country to ensure greater healthcare coverage among those affected by these potential disasters.
The private medical sector has also experienced immense changes to its infrastructure since Hurricane Katrina, primarily aimed at avoiding the hospital collapses observed during and after the storm. Installation of generators above the flood line as well as private cisterns to overcome the possible failure of municipal water systems are just 2 examples of how many hospitals are ensuring their ability to cover the basic necessities for patients while under extreme pressure. During Hurricane Harvey, for example, hospitals hit by the storm that used these preparedness strategies were successful in maintaining normal operations despite power failures.
The use of electronic medical records has also improved the care of patients evacuated because of a natural disaster. During Katrina, most medical records were paper based, which caused difficulty in providing optimized care. This represents an important example of how technology can be leveraged as a preparedness strategy in the case of a natural or man-made disaster. Digital medical claims can also be used to identify people at high risk who require immediate care, which may further enhance medical care for evacuees.
The author adds that improving hospital infrastructure, building resilient communities, and leveraging technologic innovations represent vital components in ensuring “that all communities are prepared to respond to and recover from future disasters, fulfilling our promise never to repeat the tragedy of Katrina.”
DeSalvo KB. The health consequences of natural disasters in the United States: progress, perils, and opportunity. Ann Intern Med. 2018;168(6):440-441.