The doctor is in: Rethinking healthcare's response to disastersIncluding private medical practices seen as key to meeting large-scale catastrophes
By Doug Page
Disaster planning and response is often impeded by the inability to include vital components of healthcare. Although hospitals have worked successfully to develop surge capacity to meet disaster response, attempts to include the private practice medical community have been lacking.
"Traditional planning has focused on hospitals and healthcare organizations and their capacity and capability to respond to disaster events," said Dan Hanfling, MD, of the Department of Emergency Medicine, Inova Fairfax Hospital, Fall Church, Va.
"However, in large-scale catastrophic emergencies, the entire healthcare system will have an important role to play in responding – it will be everyone's responsibility to meet the healthcare needs of the impacted community."
Hanfling recently outlined a systems approach to catastrophic disaster planning that incorporates those healthcare resources usually overlooked in clinics and private practice in a paper that appeared in the January issue of the Southern Medical Journal.
Hanfling told Homeland1 the issues related to both community-based providers and disaster planners who are working to improve disaster capabilities center first on providing response training, awareness and competency.
"A crisis isn't necessarily a crisis unless inaction and incompetency make it so," he said.
Hanfling said healthcare providers can improve outcomes of affected populations by knowing their roles and responsibilities.
The challenge, however, is to get private practice healthcare providers, who are already busy with their daily schedules, to take the time to get educated on disaster planning efforts in their communities, and to develop a plan of action that will allow their skills to be used effectively.
The Hanfling paper suggests steps to achieve these recommendations.
Hanfling said basics of disaster response ought to be incorporated into basic medical and nursing curricula, and taught through residency.
Hanfling recommends that more funding be devoted to developing a process of provider engagement, including teaching healthcare providers key issues related to disaster response and encouraging them to develop their own approach to managing disaster patients in their practices, supporting local hospital response capabilities and participating in public health-related efforts to recruit medical volunteers.