Natural disasters can drastically alter the lives of thousands of people at a time. Medical centers are institutions which can bring about a positive change in the lives of the afflicted population. Therefore, it is highly essential for hospitals to formulate a disaster action plan which can be deployed effectively.
Hospital readiness during emergency remains uneven. Hospitals realize the significance of a disaster action plan only after experiencing a natural disaster. Hospitals must anticipate risks of surrounding natural disaster to avoid ripple effect. Reputations are built and destroyed based on how a particular medical establishment provides the necessary healthcare services to the affected/displaced people during a disaster.
When talking about disasters in the Indian context, the recent floods in Kerala is the first instance which comes to mind. With more than 200 people dead and 300,000+ displaced, it is one of the deadliest cases of natural disasters in the country. As per the various news reports, healthcare centres which faced a daunting task of providing medical care to thousands of affected people were not equipped with adequate facilities to render their services. Reports also stated that the majority of the hospitals were working with a minimal number of staff (between 30-35%). There was a shortage of essentials such as liquid oxygen supply for the patients as fresh supplies did not reach the medical facilities due to blocked roads and chaotic traffic.
From the above situation, an overarching narrative can be perceived. Hospitals and medical facilities in the affected regions did not have a thorough action-plan to deal with the emergency situation. During any disaster, patients can be afflicted by a range of health problems. From serious physical injuries to mental health issues like depression and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Medical establishments must prepare themselves efficiently to deal with almost any type of challenge during emergencies. In short, they have to stretch their limits.
In order to do so, hospitals need to take specific measures which can help them to administer the required medical services to the afflicted.
• Management of medical supplies:
Lack of medical supplies is one of the primary reasons as to why healthcare establishments fail to deliver the necessary services to patients during disasters. When disaster strikes, it is very likely that transport and supply routes can get disrupted. This makes the procurement of essential equipment and consumables during disasters, a hugely taxing or at times an impossible task. Therefore, it is imperative that medical facilities keep an updated inventory of all their equipment. More importantly, all hospital equipment must be in working condition. Hospitals should analyze their consumable’s consumption patterns and forecast their requirement. They should also establish connections, sign agreements with trusted and reliable vendors who can deliver medical supplies in case of shortage.
A streamlined and transparent supply chain will make it easier for hospitals to procure equipment and supplies at times of emergencies. Medical centers can tie-up with organizations such as Medikabazaar.com who are providing end-to-end supply chain solutions for an efficient procurement system. This way hospitals can also procure sufficient supplies beforehand and stockpile them in the event of an impending disaster.
• Staff management:
One of the most pivotal aspects of a disaster action plan is a planned allocation of hospital staff. During emergencies, medical centers can very well see an overflow of patients. This is why it is all the more important to have adequate hospital staff so that they can deal with the situation. Secondly, they must be deployed in an organized manner so that no patient is left unattended. To do this, hospitals need to track the attendance of the staff members’ vis-à-vis patients regularly. Based on the data, they can estimate as to how many staff members might show up during the time of a disaster. They can then take the necessary steps to make sure the facility is adequately staffed to deal with emergencies. Healthcare facilities also have to train their employees to deal with situations where there is a high clinical demand so that they can perform their duties efficiently under pressure.
• Ensure effective communication:
During emergencies, it is crucial that all concerned factions – patients, people, fellow medical staff, media, etc. receive information on time. This way, informed decisions can be taken which can result in efficient collaboration between all to better the situation. Miscommunication can lead to more chaos and in severe circumstances, loss of life. Medical centers, during disasters, should appoint a spokesperson who will be in-charge of conveying the relevant information to the media, law enforcement agencies, etc. Also, hospitals should establish open and active communication lines internally so that every department in the facilities are continually updated on new cases and information.
• Establish security protocols:
An able security team equipped with a systematic and thorough disaster security protocol is vital for the smooth functioning of a medical center during emergencies. During disasters, the security team should manage the number of visitors properly, take control of critical areas such as triage sites and the healthcare center’s access points. They should also identify the potential security hazards and take necessary proactive measures to prevent any mishap which can disrupt the functioning of the healthcare establishment.
There are other measures such as formulating post-disaster measures, analyzing surge capability, establishing triage protocols which are also pivotal during a disaster. However, if medical facilities do not undertake any one of the steps mentioned above during an emergency, then there can be dire consequences.
Emergencies and disasters can be sudden however most of them can be predicted. In both cases, medical establishments should make it a point to devise a robust action plan which can be deployed at the time of or before an imminent disaster.
The article was published in the October 2018 edition of Express Healthcare