The Role of HIM in Disaster Response

From natural disasters to epidemics and pandemics, health information management (HIM) professionals are playing an increasingly important role in the preparation, administration and management of emergency response.

HIM professionals are slated to continue to gain importance in efforts to combat both natural and man-made disasters well into the future. This can range from preparation and post-disaster response to remote technical support for caregivers, with plenty in between.

HIM Oversees New Technologies, Systems

Newly emerging systems and technology related to health informatics are making an impact in improving the quality and timeliness of disaster response efforts.

From identifying particularly vulnerable population groups through electronic health records, to monitoring emergency supply inventories at a state and federal level, HI systems, relevant technologies and their health information managers have begun to make significant contributions to emergency systems preparation.

While still in the early stages of their development, health information systems have already made an impact. Many of these systems act as intermediaries between emergency medical services providers, hospitals and Emergency Management officials. In addition to possessing the ability to transmit data stored in electronic patient care records (ePCR) to hospital emergency departments, these new systems also help to make patient data available to Emergency Management Specialists (EMS) working in the field, and send patient outcome data to EMS to support quality improvement objectives.

HI technologies and those in management roles are also becoming increasingly influential in efforts to determine which particular communities are vulnerable to natural disaster, such as those sitting in floodplains, adjacent to potential forest fire routes, or communities for which infrastructure upgrades could minimize damage. Similarly, new informatics technologies have played an instrumental role in planning evacuation routes and establishing geographic points for aid and relief centers.

The Impact of HIM Professionals

The objective of health informatics systems dedicated to emergency preparedness, and those who oversee these technologies, is to simplify decision-making during emergencies.

HI databases and relevant systems have already proved a valuable tool in providing the infrastructure for reporting of information that can be used to manage volunteers, delegate emergency response personnel, and track victims. A variety of new systems technologies and data analysis tools are also dedicated to gauging the effectiveness of disaster planning and response efforts in order to determine areas of improvement at both the state and federal level.

HIM professionals are not only playing an increased role in the delegation of emergency response personnel and supply logistics, but also changing the way healthcare facilities themselves respond to disasters.

Many of today’s HIM professionals are focused on the development of backup systems for data from hospitals impacted by catastrophic events. HIM professionals face the unique challenge of not only preserving healthcare information systems infrastructure from threats of both natural disaster and cyberattacks, but also with making such data easily accessible from remote locations, be it by caregivers on the front lines of disasters or other hospitals located beyond a disaster’s influence.

Federal-level emergency management systems have been in wide use since the early 2000s. Systems such as the National Incident Management System (NIMS) give emergency personnel, emergency management professionals and relevant departments templates for the management of incidents and natural disasters, while providing the structure and mechanisms for national-level policy for incident management.

HIM Job Growth Reflects Need for Professionals

Initial estimates predict that the Emergency Management market will grow to as much as $93 billion by 2018. As health information systems are increasingly relied upon as a crucial tool in both the preparation and response to natural disasters, the need for HIM professionals well-versed in the oversight and management of such strategies also continues to grow. Many of these emerging professions lay at the intersection of health informatics and disaster response management.

Emergency Management Specialists work behind the scenes to develop systems utilized to train emergency personnel, coordinate effective and uninterrupted communication between different disaster relief agencies, as well as to design, implement and coordinate disaster response strategies. Emergency management and incident response teams heavily rely on communications and information systems that provide a common operating picture to all command and coordination sites.

EMS are often charged with overseeing three types of communication resources, among them the Incident Command Systems, Multiagency Coordination Systems, and Public Information Systems, the latter of which keeps citizens notified of active response measures in during incidences and disasters.

Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrators, a more specific subset of Emergency Management Specialists, work directly within clinical environments in order to delineate strategies for disaster preparedness in particular organizations such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers and elder care facilities. Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrations in the IT realm work to protect computer systems that provide support to the treatment and care to patients.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of Emergency Management professionals is projected to grow 8 percent in the next decade, and offers a median wage of approximately $70,000 annually.

Interested in learning more? Reach out to one of our enrollment advisors today. The University of Illinois at Chicago offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management or Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management.

Recommended Readings:

The Growing Health IT Sector

The Role of Health Tech in Stopping Epidemics


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