Be Prepared: Tips for Physicians on Disaster Preparedness

Catastrophes such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and severe winter storms underscore the importance of proper planning for disasters by both physicians and healthcare systems. Preparedness is a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, rehearsing, and evaluating.

Physicians should be involved in disaster preparedness to ensure that the best care is delivered to patients and critical services are not interrupted, especially for at-risk individuals who may have special medical needs. Physicians also should be aware of the potential threat of medical malpractice liability when serving as a volunteer health professional during a natural disaster or other declared state of emergency.

Here are a few tips to help physicians with disaster preparedness:

  • For your office plan:
  • Make sure your office plan includes:

  • A checklist of to-do items in case of an emergency. These steps should enable you to preserve your assets as well as communicate with your staff and patients. The list should be ordered by priority and can be designed to match up with specific weather-related information, such as in a hurricane.
  • A disaster recovery checklist with steps to follow upon your return from an evacuation.
  • A full-circle calling tree that provides directions on who will contact whom in the event of a disaster.
  • Instructions on setting up instant messaging groups to enable your staff to communicate when cell phones may not work.
  • Regularly revisit your office plan and review it with your staff.
  • Verify that home health agencies that are caring for your patients have plans to provide adequate services in case of a disaster.
  • For your hospital’s plan:
  • Ask hospitals to define or redefine your role and responsibilities as a medical staff member during an emergency.
  • Understand your hospital’s incident/disaster command structure and participate in drills and exercises.
  • For your community’s plan:
  • Participate in the development of a community disaster plan.
  • Provide input to local entities such as Emergency Management Authorities, hospitals that are accredited by The Joint Commission, and volunteer organizations such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
  • Work in concert with the lead organization coordinating disaster relief when volunteering to assist during or after a disaster.

The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.



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