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Weathering Natural Disasters

Although medical practices can’t plan for every eventuality, there are things they can do to weather a crisis.

The first priority: take a page from the Boy Scouts and be prepared. This is the first of two posts that look at planning for disasters; this one tackles acts of nature like floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, and wildfires.

Assess your risk.

Considerations to factor into a risk analysis include local geography, local weather patterns, history of environmental emergencies, proximity to possible hazards (flood plains, fault lines, etc.), and office structure. Once risks have been identified, they can be prioritized based on their probability and potential impact.

Plan for your plan.

The Medical Group Management Association offers a 12-step plan for developing an emergency response plan that is customized to the needs of a practice. Its advice: divide the process into manageable steps based on three phases of emergency events and use reverse planning. Working backward gives perspective to the plan and factors recovery into the planning process.

Create contingency plans.

Severe natural events have the potential to knock out power for an extended period. Roads may be closed. Medicine, food, and clean water may be unavailable. MGMA advises practices to know their options for storage and use of these items. For example, if a backup generator is on-site, make sure it’s in working order and located in an area that isn’t likely to flood.

Safeguard your systems and data.

The American Medical News has offered a three-point plan to protect medical practice technology in disasters. Three basic core elements should be included in every plan:

  • Security of the practice’s data
  • A plan for creating records after a disaster hits
  • Identification of and access to possible backup power and Internet sources

The AMA, the American Health Information Management Association, and other groups offer guides that enable practices to prepare for scenarios that could shut down their operations. In addition, the Small Business Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency websites provide a range of resources.

Finally, make sure your staff is aware of where to find your written emergency plan and when they should be used. Staffers always welcome guidance when faced with the unexpected, so consider posting your plan in the break room or at the front desk.

In an upcoming post, we’ll take a look at how to prepare for “man-made” crises.

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