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Disasters or Not, HIE Connectivity Is Critical

This week the Northeast saw one of the most devastating storms in its history it ever has as Hurricane Sandy touched every state in the region in one way or another. Easily accessible health information is crucial for the care of a patient at any time, but this is especially true when disasters like Hurricane Sandy strike.

With Hurricane Sandy, we saw multiple health emergencies: courageous rescues, patient transfers, life threatening situations, and more. The most potent example was when regular and backup power failed at NYU Langone Medical Center. As a result, two hundred patients were taken by ambulances to other facilities in the area to be treated.

Rescue workers evacuated NYU Langone Medical Center after power failure. Photo/John Minchillo/AP

Although the people directly in the path were affected enormously, individuals from across the country also felt Sandy's impact. On a country-wide scale, we saw over 20,028 flight cancellations, according to USA Today. Folks that lived in the Northeast couldn't get home, and others that were visiting the area couldn't return to their homes. This left thousands of travelers grounded and in unfamiliar territory throughout the country.

On Wednesday, Mike Miliard, Managing Editor for Healthcare IT News, published an article from his conversation with David Whitlinger, executive director of New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), which oversees the Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY). Within the article, the two discuss the importance of New York's HIE network and its critical role for the community and even its trapped visitors during the disaster. See the article here.

Whitlinger states, " 'This health information exchange network really can and should be seen as a public utility, for the public good. And this is another example of how it can be as critical as having roads, as having fire hydrants, as having an electricity backbone.' " This statement is an example of how important HIEs are to the people and patients within their communities. Just as communities in the country have evolved to depend on cars, roads, and electricity in our everyday lives, it is time for our healthcare to evolve from paper records to information exchanges. Once this evolution occurs, it will be ingrained in our daily lives as much as the cars and electricity we've grown to become so fond of.

New York City area is doing a great job with 78% of hospitals connected to the state HIE, according to Brian T. Horowitz on eweek.com. On a grander scale, the country is not at the same percentage of connectedness (Can we provide this solid number?). The occurrence of the 20,028 cancelled flights throughout the country is an example of how a National HIE network could improve the continuity of care for patients across the nation. By connecting all facilities, we could enable physicians to close the knowledge gap of seeing a patient they normally do not see. Duplicate tests and measures would be eliminated from the care process, and that time can be used better to target the right treatment and improve results on an individual level, as well as cost savings to care providers and patients.

The initiative of a national HIE network is not easy, but organizations like the SHIN-NY, and many others throughout the country are on the right path to helping the nation connect. The future of exchanging healthcare information keeps getting brighter, and as a patient, it sounds great to me. Come rain or shine, from notifying loved ones of a patient's status after a disaster to monitoring an expecting mother's medical progress, HIE is vital in all of our lives.