Emergency Notification System for Healthcare Organizations

Since November 2017, it has been necessary for most entities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to implement an emergency notification system for healthcare organizations in order to comply with the CMS' Emergency Preparedness Requirements.

New call-to-actionThe Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) Emergency Preparedness Requirements (81 FR 63859) introduce a minimum standard of emergency preparedness so that healthcare organizations participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs are better prepared to meet the needs of patients, residents, and clients during disasters and emergency situations.

With the exception of the Rule relating to Section 1135 waivers, most healthcare organizations will already be in compliance with the CMS' Emergency Preparedness Requirements as they are similar to the Joint Commission's Emergency Management Requirements, the HFAP's Emergency Management Requirements, and the Emergency Management Requirements in NFPA 99.

Furthermore, since the enactment of the Emergency Preparedness Requirements, both the Joint Commission and the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HCAF) have revised their requirements to be more closely aligned with those of the CMS. However, accredited healthcare organizations should note that the Joint Commission's and HFAP's Requirements still include rules for emergency mitigation and response - two areas not covered by CMS' Emergency Preparedness Requirements.

What Areas are Covered by CMS' Emergency Preparedness Requirements?

The areas covered by CMS´ Emergency Preparedness Requirements have the objectives of safeguarding human resources, maintaining business operations, and protecting physical resources. There are slightly different requirements for meeting these objectives depending on whether the organization provides inpatient or outpatient services (PDF), but generally the requirements fall into five categories:

  • The development of an Emergency Operations Plan based on an “all-hazards” risk assessment.

  • The development of policies and procedures to support the Emergency Operations Plan.

  • The development of a communications plan that includes a method for sharing information and medical documentation for patients.

  • The development of a training and testing program so that every individual within the healthcare organization is aware of their role in an emergency.

  • Additional requirements. These vary according to the type of healthcare organization, but generally relate to providing alternate sources of energy.

Importantly, the Emergency Operation Plan must include a process for ensuring communication, cooperation, and collaboration with local, tribal, regional, state, and federal preparedness agencies in order to facilitate an integrated response during a disaster. Therefore, effective communication is a vital element across four of the five categories, and is the one we will focus on in this article.

Effective Communication Before, During, and After an Emergency

Planning who, when, and how a healthcare organization will communicate before, during, and after an emergency will be influenced by the location of the organization, the type of disaster, and the nature of the organization's services. Nonetheless, there are a few guidelines within the CMS' Emergency Preparedness Requirements that have to be adhered to.

The main guideline is that any emergency notification system for healthcare organizations implemented has to have a primary and alternate means for communicating with the organization's staff and local, tribal, regional, state, and federal preparedness agencies. The CMS does not endorse any specific emergency notification system for healthcare organizations, but provides a list of options including:

  • Pagers

  • Cellphones

  • Internet-connected devices.

  • Walkie-Talkies

  • Two-way radios

  • Satellite telephone communication systems

Some of these options will not be appropriate for all organizations before, during, and after an emergency. For example, in rural or remote areas it may be impossible for organizations to alert local or state emergency agencies to an emergency by pager or walkie-talkie because they are out of range. With regards to cellphone communications, CMS recommends organizations have accounts with multiple cellphone carriers in order to mitigate communication failures during an emergency.

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Selecting an Emergency Notification System for Healthcare Organizations

When selecting an appropriate emergency notification system for healthcare organizations, it is not only important to ensure the system complies with CMS' guidelines, but also that it is effective in alerting the broadest range of personnel to an emergency in the shortest possible time. Minutes matter when an incident occurs, and any avoidable delays could potentially cost many lives.

An example of an avoidable delay would be if a prerecorded alert is initially sent via a voice broadcast, but because medical professionals have their mobile devices switched to silent, a separate operation has to be performed in order to activate alert beacons. The delay may only be a matter of seconds in a test environment; but, in a stressful situation, the seconds can extend into minutes.

Therefore, rather than select an emergency notification system for healthcare organizations that is capable of sending emergency alerts by one channel or another, the selected system should be capable of sending an alert by multiple channels simultaneously. This will ensure that staff or agencies who are out of range of a pager or walkie-talkie signal will receive the alert by an alternate channel at the same time as staff and agencies within range are receiving the alert via the primary channel.

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How Rave Alert Can Help Meet the Communications Criteria

Rave Alert is a proven emergency notification system for healthcare organizations used by medical facilities throughout the country to simultaneously alert staff and emergency agencies to a disaster or emergency incident via multiple channels of communication. An unlimited number of alerts can be created and saved in advance, so that - when an emergency incident occurs - alerts can be sent from the Rave Alert interface within seconds using only three clicks of a mouse.

Recipient lists can be populated via an automated SmartLoader tool that can integrates and synchronizes with existing HR and ERP systems and other caregiver databases, with support for “guest users” (emergency agencies fit into this category) and SMS opt-in for visiting physicians and other temporary workers. Once populated, the Rave Alert database can be segmented into an unlimited number of groups according to role, location, or other attribute.

Rave Alert also supports two-way communication, so - along with the facility to create an unlimited number of groups - is an ideal emergency notification system for healthcare organizations for ongoing incident management. Furthermore, the system includes a training mode to comply with the CMS' Emergency Preparedness Requirements for training and testing, so that administrators are familiar with Rave Alert before an incident occurs and staff are aware of their roles in an emergency.

Further Features of our Emergency Notification System for Healthcare Organizations

Rave Alert provides real-time updates of alert notification success via confirmed delivery notifications. Administrators can call up detailed “by recipient” reports, view responses, and success/failure rates by delivery method. When individuals or groups appear not to have responded to an alert notification, secondary messages can be sent via Rave Alert's geo-poll feature which provides an opportunity for administrators to increase their situational awareness - for example:

  • geopoll-2

    Q: Are you okay?

  • A1: Yes, I am clear of danger.

  • A2: No, I need medical help.

  • A3: No, I am trapped.

Recipients receive the geo-poll messages by voice broadcast, SMS text, and email, and respond using the keypad on their mobile devices. Replies are delivered with GPS coordinates to the Rave Alert console in order that administrators can identify where to prioritize help and rescue efforts. Where further situational awareness is required, conversations can remain ongoing with individuals and groups, helping mitigate the impact of the emergency and potentially save lives.

This feature can also be used when communicating with partners in a Healthcare Coalition to request details of bed and personnel availability, or to find out which partners within in the group have urgently required medical supplies available. Alternatively - when one healthcare facility has not been affected by a disaster or emergency - Rave Alert can be used to communicate the availability of beds, personnel and medical supplies to facilities who may be in need of them.

Rave Alert is Not Just for Disasters and Emergencies

Although Rave Alert is an ideal emergency notification system for healthcare organizations aiming to comply with the CMS' Emergency Preparedness Requirements, it does not have to be used exclusively for emergencies. For example, Rave Alert can be used to initiate trauma code calls, coordinate resources, call in on-call staff, announce meetings, or perform other routine internal communications.

The system can be leveraged to make staff announcements about job opportunities, exchange visits, or social events; and - with the exception of emergency alerts - personnel can select which non-emergency messages they receive and how they receive them via a facility-branded web portal (email, SMS text, social media, etc.). In this respect, Rave Alert can also enhance engagement within a medical facility.

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