Tech Tools Helping Officials Manage And Provide Health Services To Katrina Victims

Terminals set up in the Houston Astrodome are being used to create electronic medical records for evacuees, while government command systems monitor for disease outbreaks.
Siemens Medical Solutions is among the vendors that have provided medical and IT equipment to help field nurses and doctors provide care to evacuees needing health care at the Astrodome. A Siemens spokeswoman says mobile imaging equipment for field clinicians to perform X-rays, ultrasounds, CT-scans and other tests have been set up at the Astrodome and are networked so that on-site radiologists, as well as those at local Houston hospitals, can provide diagnoses electronically.

A Health and Human Services spokesman says government officials are also using the department's 3-year-old high-tech "Secretary's Command Center" at HHS headquarters in Washington, as well as a mobile command center that's been moved to Baton Rouge, La., to monitor, manage, and respond to health crises in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Systems at the command centers help government officials prepare for, monitor, and respond to health crises such as outbreaks of infectious diseases by analyzing data collected from many sources, including hospitals, public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the military, and others.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, former Health Secretary Tommy Thompson ordered the command center be built to help government officials prepare for and deal with health crises. Through the center's systems, HHS officials can tell, for instance, which U.S. hospitals have available beds to treat injured victims of a disaster like the hurricane, or other crises such as terrorist attacks, chemical spills, or earthquakes.

"We're using the command center for exactly what it was built for," says an HHS spokesman. Government officials use the command center every day to manage smaller crisis and keep tabs on the nation's health issues, as well. "It hasn't exactly collected dust since 2002," when the center opened, the spokesman says.

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