Posted By Monique Dever On September 19, 2014

The power of data in a blackout: LHD preparedness & emergency response

power of data in a black out


The importance of data is a recurring theme in the current healthcare environment. For public health providers, whose focus is primarily on preventing disease and illness within their communities, staying one step ahead of potential issues is critical. So when a group of scientists recognized a key concern among public health officials, they developed an innovative process for addressing the issue.


For decades, local public health officials have been reporting that they did not have a proactive and systematic way of identifying and assisting individuals with special medical needs who would be affected during a disaster or prolonged power outage. Specifically, this includes patients who require electricity-dependent durable medical equipment (DME) like home oxygen concentrators or ventilators. For example, in 2003, for the 48-hour period following the New York City blackout, chronically ill patients with respiratory device failure were responsible for the greatest increase in healthcare utilization—they accounted for 65 emergency department visits and 37 hospitalizations.


As the population has aged and technology has developed, it’s become possible for individuals with more serious chronic conditions to live at home independently or with some form of assistance. DME has been a critical factor in this. However, in the event of a natural disaster or power outage, it’s imperative that these individuals receive prompt medical care in acute care settings or local shelters.


Up until now, public health officials have not had a means of proactively and systematically identifying and assisting these individuals. But in June 2013, a group of researchers piloted an emergency preparedness drill during which they used Medicare claims data to identify those individuals with DME. The results of the study showed that the Medicare data was 93 percent accurate in pinpointing affected individuals.


In a report of the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, the authors write:


“The experience reported here provides tangible evidence of progress in better preparing, supporting and responding to the needs of vulnerable medical populations in a community prior to disaster. It also demonstrates a successful model for medicine, public health and emergency management collaboration. If this work can be expanded to include claims data from other payors, it could provide a nearly complete picture of the populations with special medical needs in a community and be a central tool for emergency responses to assist those most in need, prioritize resources and power restoration, and help strengthen individual and community resilience between disasters.”


The full report can be found at


The power of data in a blackout: LHD preparedness & emergency response

About Monique Dever

Monique integrates research and networking with her passion for health and well-being to provide important, up-to-date news, resources and current events to the public health communities. She is the Marketing Executive for Patagonia Health, an Electronic Health Records (EHR) software company focused on the public health sector.