Emergencies: Tech boost needed to improve response

Each year the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation uses 129 measures to determine the country’s and individual states’ ability to monitor and respond to manmade and natural disasters. In this year’s study, West Virginia dropped: 3.2 percent in health security and 7 percent in ability to monitor threats that would require a large-scale medical response.

“West Virginia has lost some capacity of being able to protect health status in the advent of an emergency. It’s not the direction we hope to go in,” University of Kentucky researcher Glen Mays told another media outlet.

Another concern leading to a low score was the state’s lack of a uniform Electronic Laboratory Information System for sharing medical information. That particular concern is one that is difficult to overcome in a state with our geography and economic challenges. For example, one quibble researchers noted was the potential slowness of electronic communication during an emergency.

” … not all hospitals are currently set up or capable to receive those electronic records,” Donnie Haynes, director of the West Virginia Center for Threat Preparedness in Charleston, told The Times West Virginian.

“So, currently we use a fax mechanism to send those submitted results to make sure that we share with our partners, but we do have that capability to use an electronic lab reporting system because we are required by federal law to submit outbreak monitoring and surveillance records to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for all required laboratory reporting.”

Yes, the Mountain State has been left behind when it comes to some technology that helps those in other parts of the country communicate much more quickly. That can be the difference between life and death in some medical situations. Our representatives in both Charleston and Washington, D.C., are, they say, working on that; though perhaps this report will add a renewed sense of urgency.

Meanwhile, Haynes noted something else about West Virginia that, while harder to quantify, may make up a bit for that lack of technology: relationships, planning and coordination — the human element. Those things have been the key in the state’s handling of, for example, a Hepatitis A outbreak; and they cannot be replaced by any machine.

Imagine how much better prepared (and therefore safer) we might be if we could just get the technology and access to go with it.