Electronic Health Records Save Patients During Devastation

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Brian YeamanBy Brian Yeaman, MD 

On May 20, 2013, a level 5 tornado headed straight for Moore Medical Center in Moore, Oklahoma. As a physician on call at the medical center, I was part of a tremendous team that had two priorities: protect those in the building as the tornado was about to hit, and immediately following the impact, resume a high level of care to those affected in the community. 

To address the first priority, the team gathered everyone in the center of the cafeteria and stayed there until the tornado passed. Outside the medical center walls, devastation surrounded us. Tens of thousands of families in the area had lost power and many houses and mobile homes were completely leveled. Moore had taken a direct hit.

Determining the best way to treat our community was the next challenge. Within hours, hundreds of patients flooded the emergency room with injuries ranging in severity from bleeding to unconsciousness. Ten patients had to be admitted who required various medicines and treatment plans. To properly treat these patients and better understand their history, drug allergies, and medications, we needed access to their medical records and quickly.

Moore Medical Center is part of a 21-unit regional health system, Norman Regional Health System (NRHS) and, thankfully, transitioned from paper to electronic health records (EHR) in 2009. eClinicalWorks, our EHR provider, was vital in helping us treat our patients in the aftermath of the tornado. With the EHRs saved in NRHS centrally-hosted databases, no data or infrastructure was lost to or damaged by the destruction of the tornado. The various ancillary solutions, including eClinicalMobile, Messenger and Patient Portal, were invaluable to us as we treated our patients during a time of desperate need. We were very lucky to have consistent access to our patients’ records. The data remained unharmed and our sister practices that also utilize eClinicalWorks solutions were unaffected.

I recall one patient in particular who was in a great deal of pain that wasn’t improving from pain medicine. By accessing his patient history electronically, I was able to determine that he had a previous back injury and a higher tolerance to pain medicine. Having this type of information readily available, especially during a crisis, armed our physicians with their medical history and ultimately the confidence they needed to properly diagnose and treat all of our patients.

In the days following the tornado, having access to these technologies helped to manage the disaster by giving our staff real-time updates and easy access to vital information. We used a messaging communication tool to alert non-emergency patients of changes to their appointment time or location. The team also assisted in getting the call center running again, which allowed our staff to answer patient calls within two days and see non-emergency patients within seven days. 

A year later, Moore is beginning the long rebuilding process. We’ve remained strong for the members of our community that needed us in the days and weeks following the tornado. This past year has demonstrated the tremendous value of ambulatory solutions, not just in preventive medicine and chronic condition management, but also for helping us through a catastrophe.