New Tools Help Hospitals Handle Terror Attacks And Other Disasters - InformationWeek

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New Tools Help Hospitals Handle Terror Attacks And Other Disasters

Health-care purchasing group Amerinet is making available to its 1,800 hospital members a new interactive, Web-based disaster-management system to replace paper binders.

When hospitals deal with a disaster, whether treating dozens of casualties from a serious highway pileup or hundreds of potential terrorist-attack victims, emergency workers and hospital administrators rely predominately on ringed binders containing hundreds of pages of emergency instructions and procedures.

It's difficult and time consuming to constantly update these emergency-management or disaster-recovery binders, which are needed throughout a hospital's many departments, and to make sure each binder is consistent. And they're easily misplaced during a time of chaos.

To help make disaster management more efficient, health-care purchasing group Amerinet is making available to its 1,800 hospital members a new interactive, Web-based disaster-management system developed by PortBlue Corp., a maker of expert-system software.

PortBlue's new Hospital Incident Response System helps hospital workers deal with smaller-scale crises, such as an internal fire; larger disasters, like plane crashes; and potential national emergencies, such as biological or chemical attacks, PortBlue CEO and founder Paul Dimitruk says. PortBlue developed the system with input about best practices from health-care providers, including Intermountain Health Care in Utah, and with suggestions from disaster-management experts, he says.

The PortBlue system helps hospitals plan and deal with three major stages of crisis management: pre-incident, during incidents, and post-incident, Dimitruk says.

For pre-incident processes, the system includes tools to assess the level of hospital preparedness and help with staff training. During incidents, the system's interactive decision-support tools can help hospital workers identify what sort of chemical agents may have injured terrorist victims based on their symptoms. During a crisis, the system can also help create job-action sheets for all involved personnel.

Post-incident-management tools help capture lessons learned during a crisis and incorporate them into future disaster-management protocols. There also are tools to help workers document the health-care services they provided to patients during a crisis, so the hospital can seek reimbursement.

The disaster-management system is available to Amerinet members from PortBlue via an ASP model, Dimitruk says. Hospitals also can have PortBlue customize the system to meet their particular protocols. The subscription fee is based on a hospital's number of beds, and in general ranges from about $8,000 to $40,000 a year, he says.

Ron Miller, Amerinet's VP of administrative services and information resources, says the system can help hospitals more efficiently deal with common crisis, like fires, as well as disasters they may have never encountered before, such as injuries and contamination caused by radioactive "dirty bombs" or hazardous materials spilled by an 18-wheeler truck rollover.

"This system can help hospitals respond more quickly to experiences they may never encountered before," Miller says. Since Sept. 11, 2001, "the world has changed," he says.

The electronic system is also more efficient at communicating emergency protocols to staff hospitalwide, which would otherwise depend on paper updates in their emergency-management binders, Miller says.

The PortBlue system also helps hospitals meet the disaster readiness and response plan requirements of the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospital Organizations and government agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Dimitruk says.

In a typical hospital environment, the system could be accessed using desktop or laptop computers in an emergency room or via mobile computers brought into a conference room or other area that the hospital designates as a command center during disasters, Dimitruk says.

In addition to the emergency-management system for health-care providers, Dimitruk says, PortBlue is also in discussion with government agencies about their use of another version of the software under development to help deal with national security crises.

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