Power outages are events no hospital administrator or provider wants to think about, but they seem to be inevitable no matter where you live. A 2016 U.S. Department of Energy study found that all utility customers, on average, experience at least one outage per year that lasts as long as three hours.
Fortunately, hospitals are required to have backup power generators to keep life-saving equipment and environmental systems operational. Not all systems, such as electronic health records (EHRs) and IT servers, however, are hooked up to these power sources. That was the hard lesson that my organization, Kennedy Health, a three-hospital, 607-bed system in southwest New Jersey, learned in June 2015.
A severe thunderstorm tore through our area late in the month bringing 85-mile-per-hour straight-line winds and knocking out power for more than 86,000 customers in our area of the state, including our three hospitals. Our backup generators switched on to keep us running, but our landline phones and computers were useless.
The year before the storm, Kennedy Health implemented TigerText, a unified, mobile clinical communication platform that is integrated with our EHR. The solution had already delivered big improvements for our organization before the storm arrived. For example, it was helping care teams communicate more effectively and efficiently to reduce emergency department (ED) utilization and hospital readmissions among frequent ED visitors, as well as improving care coordination among this high-need population.
The unexpected benefit we discovered during the power outage was that the secure cloud-based server that hosted TigerText was still operational. Through TigerText, I could easily start communicating with care teams on my smartphone using secure group text messages because their contact and schedule information was also accessible from the cloud. Once the messages were sent, I could see who had received and viewed them through the app.
With TigerText at full functionality, our chief medical information officer and chief medical officer could communicate with physicians around the area about their patients in our hospitals and updates about our facilities.
In short, even though the computers weren’t working, TigerText was. The care teams were informed about what was happening in real time, both with the weather conditions and our patients. Even with limited electric power, I believe we were able to deliver safer, better-informed care during a crisis situation because of TigerText.