There are significant advantages of integrating an on-call staffing module into an emergency alert system with geo-polling capabilities - especially in the healthcare industry, where on-call medical staff may be required at short notice, and where many medical staff work alone in the community.
Since November 2017, healthcare entities in the Medicare and Medicaid programs have been required to comply with the CMS Emergency Preparedness Rule. The CMS Emergency Preparedness Rule was developed to address gaps identified in past responses to emergency events, establish a consistent framework for all healthcare entities, and encourage coordination among healthcare entities. It also was created to include healthcare system preparedness entities, public health preparedness officials, and emergency managers.
In addition to the Emergency Preparedness Rule, the U.S. Department for Health & Human Services (HSS) has run a Hospital Preparedness Program since 2003 with the objective of better preparing public health systems for “medical surge events” so they can respond more effectively. The HHS provides grants and funding for participating healthcare entities that participate in the program. In the financial year ended 2018, HHS paid more than $225 million to participating healthcare entities.
Core Elements of the Emergency Preparedness Rule
Risk Assessment and Planning
There are four core elements of the Emergency Preparedness Rule, the first of which is “Risk Assessment and Planning”. This element requires all healthcare entities to develop an emergency plan based on a risk assessment and using an “all hazards” approach. The emergency plan must focus on capacities and capabilities, and be updated annually.
Policies and Procedures
Based on the emergency plan, policies and procedures must be developed and implemented that - in Critical Access Hospitals and Long Term Care facilities - include the provision of subsistence needs for staff and patients whether they evacuate or shelter in place. The policies and procedures also need to be reviewed annually even if no changes are made to the emergency plan.
A communication plan must be developed that specifically addresses communication and coordination with local, state, and federal officials, patients, and patients’ family. The healthcare emergency alert system implemented to execute the communications plan must be capable of alerting large numbers of people to an emergency in the shortest possible time, and communicating the nature of the emergency.
Training and Testing
Covered healthcare entities must also develop and maintain training and testing programs, including training in policies and procedures. Staff will have to demonstrate knowledge of emergency procedures and be provided with training at least annually. Facilities must conduct drills and exercises to test the emergency plan or participate in an actual incident that tests the plan.
Integrating a Communication Plan with a Hospital Preparedness Program
In terms of complying with the communications plan requirement of the Emergency Preparedness Rule, the healthcare emergency alert system implemented to execute the plan must be capable of facilitating two-way communications between key personnel over multiple channels of communication. There is a similar requirement in HHS´ Hospital Preparedness Program, in the context of providing situational awareness to incident managers in order to assist with decision making and resource allocation:
“The State and healthcare organizations, in coordination with Healthcare Coalitions, relevant response partners, and stakeholders, [must] have or have access to redundant, interoperable communications systems. These systems must be capable of communicating vertically with local, state, and Federal incident management and Emergency Support Function (ESF) #8, and horizontally with critical healthcare response partners in the community.”
In this respect, it makes sense to use the same solution to comply with the two sets of requirements. A multi-model healthcare emergency alert system that can communicate the risk of danger to staff and patients - and that can act as a command center during an emergency - saves time, save lives, and enhances coordination. Integrating an on-call staffing module into a healthcare emergency alert system with geo-polling capabilities can provide further benefits to healthcare entities, staff, and patients.
What is a Healthcare Emergency Alert System with Geo-Polling Capabilities?
A healthcare emergency alert system with geo-polling capabilities is a system that - as well as performing the functions mentioned above - enables administrators to send polls to groups of employees. The polls are typically simple questions followed by a small selection of answers. For example, if the system is being used as an on-call staffing module, the question could be “Are you available to work tonight?” The selection of answers would only have to be “Yes” or “No”.
In the event of an emergency, the poll would more likely read “Medical Surge Event. Please advise ETA” with a selection of times as the required answers. The responses would help with planning the response to a medical surge event, and could be sent to different groups of medical personnel in stages in order to better manage arrival times (i.e. ER personnel > surgical personnel > recovery personnel). This feature can be an important benefit when applying for accreditation with the Hospital Preparedness Program.
The “geo” element of the geo-polling feature is of benefit when an emergency has struck a medical center and administrators need to check on the wellbeing of their employees. A general poll can be sent to all employees asking “Are You Alright” with the selection of answers being “Yes”, “No - I need medical help” or “No - I need help escaping”. When responses to the poll are received, administrators also receive details of the employees´ locations so they can direct help where it is required.
Similarly, the geo-poll feature can be used to check on the wellbeing of medical personnel working alone in the community. The lack of a response would alert administrators to a potential problem and procedures could be initiated to locate the non-responsive member of staff - such as using the geo-poll feature to find out who is closest to the non-responsive member of the staff at their last known location.
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