Electronic Health Records Make Difference In Disaster Recovery

June 7, 2011

Interior Damage after May 22 Tornado

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On May 1, just a few weeks before the tornado struck St. John’s, the hospital and its physician practices began using the same electronic health record (EHR) system used by other Mercy hospitals and clinics in four states. Access to the EHR helped Mercy get the hospital back online quickly, and also helped patients who were transferred to other Mercy hospitals after the storm.

For Paul Johnson, 78, of Joplin, his focus was to get to a hospital where doctors and nurses could access his medical records. Johnson had been hospitalized with pneumonia for two days when St. John’s was hit by the tornado. His family was visiting at the time and after the tornado passed, they helped guide him down a dark stairwell with the light from a cell phone to the make-shift emergency department, where he was stabilized before moving to a triage center at McAuley Catholic High School. When patients there were transferred, he expressed his desire to go to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, knowing the Mercy connection and that his records would be easily accessible.

“I knew that they would want to know my medications, dosages and what tests had been done, and I knew that I couldn’t remember all of it. The doctors in Springfield were able to pull up my records and ask me questions. It worked out beautifully,” he said.

Johnson was hospitalized in Springfield for an additional five days. His home had only minor damage and is livable. “It was nice to have a place to come home to.”

Along with the access to patient records, Mercy was among the first organizations in the area to re-establish communication services such as phone, network access, laptops, printers, etc., which helped provide the critical link between Mercy’s command center in Joplin, the new mobile hospital and physician offices in the community, and other locations across Mercy.

“If the tornado had hit a month earlier, before installing the electronic health record system in Joplin, St. John’s would not have been able to bring up our mobile hospital within a week’s time. We still would not be operational at this point,” said Mike McCreary of Mercy Technology Services. “Today, patients have continuity of care across all of our physician locations and the new St. John’s Mercy Hospital, and connection to the entire Mercy health system, because of our EHR and our ability to quickly re-establish communication services.”

McCreary noted that St. John’s patients also have access to historical medical records. More current health information was stored within the new EHR, and older paper records had been scanned prior to the tornado and are securely stored on servers located in other communities.

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