Take Home Office Natural Disaster Best Practices by Storm
Have a plan to save your livelihood when natural disaster strikes.
With today’s technology, medical coders, billers, and other healthcare business professionals can complete all the technical and administrative aspects of their job from the comforts of home. If you are a remote employee, or work from home on occasion, have you considered what would happen in the event of a natural disaster? Don’t wait until it’s too late to protect your home office and mitigate risk.
Learning from Past Devastation
Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, fires, or other geological threats, can occur anywhere and at any time. Think back to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the complete breakdown in healthcare operations and care coordination. The storm took thousands of lives and left the United States (particularly, Louisiana) with billions of dollars in damages. Paper medical records were destroyed and patient care was drastically impacted, too.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean and the eastern coast of the United States, killing more than 200 people and causing roughly $70 billion in damages. Healthcare facilities were taken completely off the grid due to power and communication losses, and flooding caused devastating structural damage.
Effective Nov. 15, 2017, the Emergency Preparedness Rule requires health systems to have procedures in place to mitigate risk of losing patient data and not being able to facilitate healthcare delivery. And health systems now are incentivized to adopt electronic health records (EHRs). Today, EHRs are more prevalent and facilities are better prepared to handle natural disasters than before.
For example, in 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria collectively caused over $200 billion in damages in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands and, unfortunately, cost many their lives. During these hurricanes, however, providers and facilities were better positioned to manage patient data due to EHRs. When a power or communication loss occurred, medical records remained accessible because data were primarily backed up remotely, stored in cloud-based technology, or housed in an offsite location.
Protect Your Home Office
What provisions have you taken to protect your livelihood? If you are employed by a hospital system or other entity, there are probably provisions in your organization’s disaster-related policies and procedures (P&Ps) for remote employees. Familiarize yourself with their crisis management plan or other response communication available to you. Always protect yourself from harm, and document and report incidences as required.
If you are an independent contractor without specific disaster-related P&Ps, now is the time to seek the necessary information and guidance from the organization that contracts your services. If one is not available, create an emergency planning checklist. Your list may contain information such as:
|Current Status||Accessible/Not Accessible||Remediation Plan|
Break down the items from your list of P&Ps that you should account for during a disaster, like so:
Inventory List: Have a comprehensive list of all your work-related items and equipment (e.g., computer, scanner, printer, phone, code books, etc.). Include model and serial numbers when possible.
Important Numbers: Contact information for your employer (e.g., manager, human resources staff, etc.) so you can communicate disaster-related issues to the appropriate individual or group.
Insurance Information: If you are an independent contractor, it is probably in your best interest to carry insurance coverage. Check your homeowner or rental policies to see what is and is not included in terms of coverage. Have important information (e.g., policy number, agent name and number, claim hotline number, etc.) available when calling to begin a claim.
Damage Assessment: Once the disaster is over and it is safe for you to enter or remain in your home, perform an assessment of the damages. Record all losses and take pictures. If you are a regular remote employee, think about the organization’s P&Ps and how effective they were. Can improvements or modifications be made? Share suggestions or feedback with your manager or appropriate source at the right time.
Contingency Plan: Determine which areas (physical and operational) were affected by the disaster. Develop methods for securing work resources in the event of future disasters. Test your plan periodically (e.g., drills) for functionality, accuracy, and viability.
Look to the Red Cross
American Red Cross has an Emergency Preparedness Checklist available to assist in preparing for and protecting civilians against natural disasters. The checklist includes important tips like having an escape plan, identifying evacuation routes, and shelter locations in your community.
You should have a list of family physicians, access to a first-aid kit, prescriptions, and medical devices you or a family member require. A personal health record (PHR) is also a great tool to have in times of natural disasters. PHRs are different from EHRs in that the patient can personally manage their data. A PHR may be standalone but can also be interconnected with a facility’s EHR, giving access to providers.
Know What You Are Up Against
Don’t let the next natural disaster take you by surprise. Know what your risks are:
- Are you in a flood zone?
- Do you reside in Tornado Alley?
- Are you on or near a fault line?
Knowing the kind of devastation you are susceptible to will help you select the right type of insurance coverage. Be prepared and proactive in securing your remote work space. Also make sure you are HIPAA compliant in all aspects of operating your home business or office. If you use reference materials on paper (e.g., an audit tool), transfer those materials to digital format (when permissible). Develop a disaster plan and put your plan into practice so when the day comes, you will know exactly what to do.
American Red Cross, Be Red Cross Ready. 2016. www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/National/BE%20RED%20CROSS%20READY.pdf
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Personal Health Records. 2012. www.cms.gov/medicare/E-health/perhealthrecords/index.html
National Hurricane Center, Tropical Cyclone Climatology. 2019. www.nhc.noaa.gov/climo/#overview
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Reflections from a Health IT Perspective on Disaster Response. 2017. www.healthit.gov/buzz-blog/health-it/reflections-health-perspective-disaster-response