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National Rollout of PULSE Could Aid Health IT in Disasters


Experts are trying to bring the public-private interoperability effort to your community.

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It’s called PULSE, and it just might revolutionize health information technology’s (IT) response to widespread emergencies, such as natural disasters, by bolstering interoperability and more. That’s what several offices in the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and their private partners hope, at least.

The Sequoia Project, a nonprofit that has helped lead the charge on the public-private collaboration behind PULSE, announced today that it is preparing a nationwide deployment plan for the platform, in support of CMS. The entities have also built an advisory council to help guide the expansion.

An acronym for Patient Unified Lookup System for Emergencies, PULSE has been used only in California. Last year, upon being activated, the platform aided health systems and providers during the raging wild fires that ravaged portions of the state. Experts who lived that experience have joined the new advisory council, providing insights that will, if all goes well, make PULSE a program connecting healthcare institutions and volunteers across the country.

>> READ: Interoperability During Disasters

“Disasters and other events are unpredictable and disruptive and place unique demands on public health, private sector healthcare, first responders, and other key resources,” Mariann Yeager, MBA, CEO of the Sequoia Project. “People need seamless healthcare, whether for emergency care or just uninterrupted prescription access, when they are displaced by a disaster.”

But maintaining the flow of care, health data, and even prescriptions has proved challenging during disasters. Late last year, Healthcare Analytics News™ published a feature story on the matter, which concluded that health systems must do more to prepare their lines of electronic communication and digital tools for emergencies. In fact, much of that piece focused on PULSE, its potential, and how it fared in the California wild fires.

Earlier, last summer, PULSE stakeholders simulated the platform’s performance after a major earthquake, finding that participants were largely successful in accessing medical records with little identifiable information. “This is a design that we hope to see on a national scale,” said Lee Stevens, of the HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, who has been appointed to the advisory board.

PULSE came about in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, after 2 arms of the HHS realized a critical need to enhance information sharing. Many physicians and providers traveled to shelters, hoping to treat patients, but authorities couldn’t confirm their medical credentials, and volunteers couldn’t access evacuee health data, according to the Sequoia Project.

Since then, a vague idea has evolved into something concrete, and this latest step suggests PULSE will one day be capable of helping victims anywhere on US soil.

“Disasters and other serious events are inevitable,” Yeager said. “But how we handle them improves daily, and this effort will help communities take an important step forward toward more effective disaster response.”

The advisory council announced today includes experts from government, healthcare and health information organizations, and emergency response groups. For the full list, check out the release.

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