The COVID-19 crisis has proven the sternest test to the healthcare sector. And it’s not over yet. What’s worse, the healthcare system remains more vulnerable than ever to a simultaneous hit from a second catastrophic health event, which might overwhelm its capabilities as well as those of local and regional emergency responders.

Why’s that? Well, events of this nature pose a response challenge many orders of magnitude greater than common medical disasters. Casualties tend to be higher, and critical healthcare infrastructure is likelier to be degraded.

Add to that, catastrophic health events often lead to the temporary loss of situational awareness, information sources, and/or communications at the most critical phase of the healthcare response (usually the very beginning), which only compounds the challenge of efficiently allocating available medical resources.

We have every reason to be concerned. Even before the pandemic, emergency room doctors were sounding the alarm about the sector’s level of preparedness. Survey data from the American College of Emergency Physicians found that 93 percent of emergency room doctors thought that their emergency departments were not fully prepared for a surge of patients in the event of a disaster.

So, what could keep the sector better prepared for catastrophic health events? Digital crisis and emergency management technology can help. By mitigating some of the core challenges to emergency communication, collaboration, and coordination during catastrophic health events, digital technology can help bolster preparedness and enhance the quality of the response. Here are five ways how:

1. Offer secure, controlled communications. During a catastrophic health event, digital crisis and emergency management technology enables providers to reach out to staff (via SMS) and also to request updates about their status, including welfare, working ability, and health.

Those communications don’t just go one way, either. Accessible on the healthcare worker’s mobile device, the technology provides healthcare workers customised dashboards where they can check in with updates as well as access the latest situation reports.

This communications functionality improves the quality of affected worker case management. Knowing the status and location of affected workers helps providers come up with the appropriate actions to support them.

2. Streamline information flows. Having worker updates come into the same digital platform out of which they go centralises the flow of information during a catastrophic health event, providing a single source of reference.

On top of that, the availability of action and decision logs showing who’s responsible for which tasks and which tasks are still outstanding goes a long way towards eliminating the messy paper trail that builds up during a catastrophic health event.

Using specialised assets like HICS, AIIMS, or your hospital’s own forms? That’s no problem, either. The platform centralises the location of those (now digitised) assets for download, while also enabling users to upload updated forms back to the same location.

The same applies to situation reports and other important updates during a catastrophic health event, like meeting minutes and actions. The system enables emergency coordinators to track and share the latest, so as to ensure the best-informed decisions are made, communicated, and tracked.

3. Bring digitized plans to life. Whether it’s from the WHO, CDC, or other national health body, best-practice plans and guidance on how to respond to catastrophic health events abound in the sector. We’re sure your healthcare organization has done a fine job planning, too. But the fact that those best practices are so often long format and paper based makes them too difficult to engage with during the fast-moving crisis surge context.

Fortunately, digital technology can help. Purpose-built technology comes with best-practice plans, checklists, and other guidance from trusted health authorities in digitised format, as well as the ability to digitise your plans. What does that mean, exactly? Interactive progress indicators are set against checklists as specific tasks get completed, bringing those plans to life and also helping coordinators spot blockages, where further interventions might be necessary.The system also gives coordinators the ability to assign and track checklists items to specific roles or people in the organisation.

4. Provides situational awareness at the click of a button. Overly standardized emergency responses have their limits in catastrophic health events, which by their very nature are bespoke events. Fortunately, features like customized dashboards, views, and workflows (for different events and actions) can make the difference.

There’s a larger principle at work, as well. Mobile-friendly digital dashboards, offering a variety of metrics and data points, all relevant to the catastrophic health event response and available at the level of the whole health system, also help provide the requisite situational awareness needed to enact a highly tailored emergency response.

After all, the very aim of the technology is to give coordinators an overview of all of the healthcare operations they might be managing, whether in permanent or temporary facilities.

Sound like an emergency operations centre (EOC)? It’s that exactly, only now available at the click of a button.

5. Controls the sharing of resources across all facilities. To handle the inevitable surges in demand that accompany catastrophic health events, it’s vital for providers to know the latest capacities available across all of their facilities, staff, supplies, and equipment – not just at the moment, but over time, as well, so as to establish trends and make decisions based on accurate forecasts.

How can digital technology help, here? The platform provides a centralised location for all updates, key decisions, and actions pertaining to the resources necessary to keep critical supplies flowing to operations, including requests for assistance or more resources. In the particular case of the COVID-19 response, we’re talking about summaries of total patients, beds, ventilators, healthcare workers, PPE, and other key metrics, tracked across diverse facilities like hospitals, aged-care centres, clinics, alternate sites, or testing facilities.

How does this differ from an inventory tracker, for instance? Well, digital technology can give providers a dynamic view of urgent shortages across all facilities, so key stakeholders can make decisions about available resources across an entire system.

The ongoing pandemic makes the healthcare sector more vulnerable than ever to a second disaster, while its resources and capabilities are stretched so thin. Fortunately, purpose-built, digital crisis and emergency management technology gives healthcare organizations the tools and information necessary to better prepare, ensure accountability, eliminate confusion, and streamline response operations today.


James Boddam-Whetham

James Boddam-Whetham is the CEO of Noggin, an integrated crisis management and business continuity software provider. Connect with James on LinkedIn:

Employee Well-Being During a Crisis is Your Greatest Asset
If the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated anything, it is we are all vulnerable to stress. Yet with every crisis, we...
The SMB Guide to Creating a Crisis Management Plan
If 2020 taught businesses one integral lesson, it would be to have a crisis management plan available. COVID-19 left many...
Crisis Management in Unstable Times
As everyone who has ever stubbed their toe knows, the world can be a dangerous place. Business is not immune...
Staffing the Crisis Management Team
No factor is more important in determining the success or failure of a crisis management (CM) program than the people...