Disaster Reminds of Us Of EMR Virtues

As anyone reading this must know, Japan now faces horrific logistical problems in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that hit on March 11.

While I’m sure Japanese officials have more urgent issues on their hands, one that will arise when caring for the injured is that natural disasters wipe out paper records — including medical charts, of course.

Japan does have an HIE strategy under way, funded with billions in stimulus funds, but it hasn’t had time to mature. EMR coverage is patchy, though like here in the U.S., on the upswing.  Research interest is high; in fact, medical informatics specialists there have developed their own clinical data exchange format, the Medical Markup Language. All told, however, health data digitization and sharing is still in its early stages, or so it seems from the reading I’ve done.

Now, back to the present. In a time of national disaster, wouldn’t it  have been great for Japan to have a robust HIE network in place, one which not only made it easy to share data but provided for backups offshore that wouldn’t be washed away by a wall of ocean water?  In fact, wouldn’t any country or region ride out disasters better with health data sharing in place?

While I’m not suggesting data portability in times of emergency is the most important reason for building out HIEs/EMRs, it’s a good public health tool when clinicians have to work fast.   It wouldn’t hurt when pandemics strike, either — just imagine the good a sophisticated, mature national health network in could have done in tracking, tracing and treating H1N1 when the illness was at its peak.

Just one more thing to think about as we argue, worry about costs and in some cases, drag our feet over EMR launches.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • It is a terrible thing that the devastation from this recent disaster has highlighted the issue of the vulnerability of medical records. I watched a program last night on whether the same scenario could hit the US and was surprised that Portland, Oregon is one of the most “at risk” cities in the US. More so than LA, San Francisco, New York, Kansas, St Louis or others which also have huge fault lines running below the surface. Bloomberg Businessweek had a recent article on ‘The Power of the Cloud” (March 7th 2011) and suddenly I made the connection. As I read Katherine’s post it made me realize we do have an opportunity in the US to safeguard ourselves against such disasters if we only ACT now. This is nothing to do with ARRA Dollars, this is just GOOD BUSINESS. My suggestion, before we even get to a full HIE scenario, is to move your EMR to the cloud. Mitochon Systems is a free system, it is certified, and it is simple to get up and running. One 7 physician practice was up and running in less than an hour this week. If their office is flooded, hit by a tornado, or ravaged by a hurricane their data will still be safe. It will still be accessible through an internet connection whether that is a tablet, PC, or other method. Imagine if all the physicians in Japan were able to access the records of the injured they find.

    Check out Mitochon Systems at http://mitochonsystems.com. I am already pushing for this due to purely selfish reasons. If something happens to me I want the person that finds me to have access to my medical records. Don’t you?

    Would love to get your thoughts about how to make this a reality in the US.

  • Imagine you are on the roof of a flooded building in Japan. There is no cloud, there is no power, there are no computers… However if you have a Jump Drive in you wallet (mine looks like a credit card) with an Excel Spread sheet that contains all of your medical data in English you would be fine. Once you are rescued you can insert your Jump Drive into any computer with Ms Office (even in Japan) and access your data. You might also be able to have your Spread Sheet instantly translated into Japanese improved by a Japanese provider and translated back into English (it is very hard for the cloud to do that). http://www.xlemr.com/wallet.html

  • Undoubtedly, some time in the future most of the health services will have switched to some form of EHR but in the current global economic climate that must have been pushed even further out.
    I am currently living in a disaster zone in Christchurch New Zealand. As PMO I was in the basement of the main hospital contributing to a discussion on project prioritisation when the more damaging 6.3 quake hit the city resulting in thousands of casualties and at least 180 casualties. Most of the central business district has been destroyed. Yes, in the greater scheme of things we were lucky! However, how much use would EHR have been when all Hospitals were on standby power for essential services only, several ‘field’ casualty facilities had no access to IT, and maybe fifty percent of the casualties were foreign visitors? Voice and data were severely compromised (broken and overloaded) during the event, which means EHR would not have been available anyway.
    The good news is that we have an EHR strategy and vision being managed by our Information Services team, but their challenge has been somewhat cranked up!
    We are six weeks into the recovery effort, which sees us with very fragile infrastructure and the health $$ stretched to the limit. I guess that means EHR is even further off for our health service.
    Ironically, the IT team has also been displaced by the event, due to needing their office space to convert to temporary wards while others are repaired.
    Apologies for this not be particulary well written, but service was disrupted whilst I was writing earlier, so had to start again!

  • Hey Cliff, my best to you as you recover from such a catastrophic situation. Given power availability is/was limited to essential services only, would this include power to charge/run laptop computers with MS Office? If no, then no EHR would work. If yes then if your (foreign and domestic) patients had a JUMP drive with XLEMR then you could access and improve their PHI…

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