If the Worst Happens: Five Strategies for Developing and Leveraging Information Technology-Enabled Disaster Response in Healthcare
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Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and floods, have a profound impact on healthcare by limiting healthcare providers' ability to effectively provide patient care in the affected areas and respond to myriad healthcare needs of the affected population. The situation can potentially be exacerbated if healthcare providers do not have effective mechanisms in place for disaster response. The response to Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 hurricane that made landfall in August 2005 and affected several states in the southwestern U.S., was a vivid example of how the lack of effective planning and responsiveness can affect healthcare services. In this paper, based on an extensive case study, which included a rigorous examination of the Veterans Health Administration's information technology (IT) infrastructure and its response to Hurricane Katrina, we present five strategies that healthcare organizations can undertake to develop and leverage IT-enabled disaster response. These include the development of: 1) an integrated IT architecture; 2) a universal data repository; 3) web-based disaster communication and coordination; 4) an IT-enabled disaster support system; and 5) standardized and integrated IT-enabled disaster response processes. We discuss how these strategies can help healthcare providers manage continuity and offer quality healthcare during natural disasters.