A month in to the 2013 hurricane season, HealthBiz Decoded asked the executive director of the New York eHeath Collaborative (NYeC) about his experiences in Health IT in the days following Hurricane Sandy last year, and his insights for the future.
David Whitlinger’s organization created and maintains the Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY), a consumer-connected health information network that links regional hubs of data from private practices, nursing homes, clinics and hospitals with digital records.
Q: What was it like to be part of NYeC last fall when Sandy happened? Were you, personally, in New York City?
A: Yes, I was in New York City during the hurricane last fall. We were anticipating infrastructure issues with the city in general—everything from flooding to downed power lines, and all sorts of telecom issues and transportation issues. We were anticipating infrastructure in general to be stressed and strained throughout the course of the storm.
That usually means that the healthcare facilities also end up in a situation where the resources necessary to stay operational become compromised, and patients have to be moved around. We were anticipating all of that. And it all came true.
Q: Did SHIN-NY play a role in recovery after the storm? How do you think the aftermath of the storm was handled, from an information sharing and coordination point of view?
A: To the extent that the SHIN-NY allows providers to look at the network and find out what is available on patients, it certainly did play a significant role. Patients moved around the city in order to accommodate the facilities that were shutting down, and to fill up the beds in the facilities that could accommodate those patients. SHIN-NY was useful for providers who had to locate patients’ records from a variety of different places.
Q: On a day-to-day basis, without a natural disaster, what does NYeC do that benefits patients and/or providers?
A: NYeC is the state-designated entity for operating the Statewide Health Information Network of New York. It allows the free exchange of records across the provider community—and increasingly the patient community. This means both operating the technical infrastructure and managing all of the policy, business, politics, and governance that allows the network to exist safely and securely.
Q: Is there a large amount of variation, state to state, in the level of preparedness for disasters like Sandy?
A: I would assume so. We think of New York as one of the few states that actually has a statewide network. So without that being available in other states, you’re left to whatever the hospital community has done on their own, for their own. And to a large degree that’s going to benefit patients, but may or may not benefit the public good in a broader public health/public utility perspective, because that’s not their business.
Q: What do you think of Mayor Bloomberg calling for higher building and Health IT standards for NYC area hospitals at risk for flooding? Will that be enough? Is he approaching the problem in the right way?”
A: We at NYeC are encouraged and pleased at Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives for increasing resiliency in the healthcare system, especially in relation to electronic health records. His recommendations are exactly in line with our mission here at NYeC. I think he is taking the right approach by referencing Primary Care Information Project (PCIP) programs as a resource for hospitals and providers. In flood prone areas, PCIPs can help providers transition their records to an online network like the SHIN-NY, while staying within policies and guidelines.