ONC blog: health IT withstood Sandy

A recent post on HealthITBuzz, the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT's (ONC) blog, discussed how health IT systems fared during Hurricane Sandy. Paper patient records, not surprisingly, were another casualty of the storm but health IT held up well according to the post's author, Brett Coughlin, ONC health information specialist.

Administrators at a recently-acquired Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Queens had begun the lengthy process of transferring from paper records to an EHR system when Hurricane Sandy interrupted the upload.  According to officials at the Community Health Care Association of New York State (CHCANYS), the Queens FQHC lost 1,500 paper records as the water levels rose. Rebuilding a lost or destroyed paper record is difficult and time-consuming but required to meet the seven-year retention rules.

According to the post, CHCANYS officials are unaware of any lost patient data from their participating clinics that use health IT. “As Sandy devastated areas of Staten Island and other boroughs of New York City, it wasn’t able to corrupt electronic data,” said Lee Stevens of the State Health Information Exchange Policy at ONC. “I don’t believe there was even one server lost,” Stevens said, referring to data storage of EHRs in New York/New Jersey.

Any problems, specifically those experienced at NYU Langone, were due to power outages, not the health IT. While Langone’s generators are on higher ground, fuel tanks to run the generators were in the basement, according to published reports. The storm surge, initially predicted to be about 12 feet, topped out at 14 in southern Manhattan.

Thomas Ortiz, MD, a family physician and medical director for the NJ-HITEC program in Newark, N.J., shared several lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy. Ortiz lost power for eight days. With 38 EMR stations down, he and his team were able to see patients during daylight hours, but could not access their data. Ortiz recommends storing data at a remote location, shutting down your health IT system if a disaster is imminent, continuously backing up data and installing a generator.

According to the post, health IT "is critical for disaster preparedness and response, and it did apparently help doctors and hospitals keep patient information secure, but unprecedented disasters teach us new lessons each time."

Read the entire blog post.