Tracking patients in disasters using technology support

May 25, 2017
By Mary Lou Weden, Product Manager of Business Solutions, Intermedix

Patient tracking during disasters, mass casualty incidents, and other large gatherings presents unique challenges to all involved. Its origins are in disaster management, but the need to track and manage individuals in need of care at large assemblies such as sporting events, marathons, and concerts is in high demand; it has become a necessity in order to develop situational awareness during these crowded and sometimes chaotic situations.

In addition, a challenge that many caregivers face in managing disasters is that they do not happen daily, so personnel are not familiar with the emerging systems and tools designed to help manage these events. There are various emergency management situations where patient tracking is utilized today, and these systems and tools have become vital to ensuring that the care of patients—from requesting care to release—is as effective as possible.

Coordinating response to any kind of mass casualty incident or large gathering is one of the greatest challenges the emergency response system faces. Even as caregivers encounter a large numbers of patients, there are often disruptions to communications and infrastructure that present further complications. When dealing with any type of large gathering or incident, it is imperative that all participating organizations and individuals know the scope of the incident and the availability of the resources most appropriate for caring for all patients involved. Information on hospital availability and the number of ambulances available impact how patients are managed at the scene and determine the plan for their transport to the most appropriate facility. New technologies such as EMTrack—a web-based, multifunctional tracking system—have been employed to assist in managing several of these issues.

Courtesy of Intermedix

The use of patient tracking during special occasions such as marathons and sporting events is also on the rise. When dealing with large gatherings of people, the potential to encounter many of the same obstacles first responders deal with during actual disasters is ever present. One advantage these situations have over disasters is that they allow for planning prior to the event.

Viewing these events as “planned disasters” allows responders to utilize the systems and tools they are familiar with. Patient tracking systems also provide a current and historical understanding of the demand placed on providers. During these events, patient tracking systems provide event organizers and management personnel with a common operating picture that allows them to communicate throughout the event and assign resources to the most appropriate in-need areas. This technology is also very helpful in the process of family reunification if event participants are transported to various care facilities.

Electronic patient tracking eliminates the need for paper-based, time-consuming administrative tasks. Historically, paper triage tags have been utilized to quickly identify, prioritize, and communicate the care needs of individuals at an event. While the tags worked well in the past, they fell short in a number of areas, which include only being able to capture limited details, potentially being impacted by weather conditions, and not being able to quickly disseminate information to other participants who could benefit from this knowledge as they plan for and respond to the event. Electronic patient tracking systems can capture this information quickly and share details on a wider scale. One example is the capability to scan a runner’s bib number or a spectator’s driver license so the user can identify the person and then determine and document the level of patient care needed.

Implementing electronic patient tracking systems on mobile devices and smartphones is also crucial when it comes to mobilizing needed personnel and resources as quickly as possible. Mobile devices have the capability to capture critical patient data—such as tying a triage to a unique identifier—and document care given as well as the anticipated care needed. As patients are triaged and transported, information, such as photos, can automatically be shared with responders managing the incident. This capability to gather and disseminate accurate information quickly allows for appropriate coverage and can positively impact the care provided by caregivers on scene as well as in the hospital.

Electronic patient tracking is truly an essential component when it comes to the management of large-scale disasters and mass gatherings. As hospitals are challenged to provide superior care, while still making sure patient flow is managed appropriately, patient tracking ensures all necessary parties are aware of a patient’s status and medical information as he or she moves through the care continuum. Providing responders with a mechanism to quickly and easily collect data by performing common, essential functions—such as scanning IDs or triage tags, gathering patient data, and instantly sharing that information with all stakeholders—is a tremendous asset offering significant benefits and one that impacts how events and incidents are handled moving forward.

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