In disasters such as Sandy, HIE is 'as critical as having roads, as having fire hydrants'

David Whitlinger

The Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY) sees itself as a "public utility" as much as an HIE. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as patients bounce between hospitals (and as other public utilities, such as electricity and transportation, are compromised), it has enabled critical continuity of care.

The images of dozens of red-flashing ambulances, evacuating as many as 200 patients – some of them in critical condition, some of them infants – from NYU Langone Medical Center, whose backup generator had failed, to hospitals such as Sloan-Kettering and NewYork-Presbyterian, will be some of the most enduring images from the super storm.

The harrowing process was made much smoother by the fact that those patients' electronic health records were secure and readily accessible at the hospitals to which they were transported, thanks to New York's statewide HIE.

Healthcare IT News spoke with David Whitlinger, executive director of New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), which oversees SHIN-NY, about what's happening in New York City, about the critical roles for health information exchange in crisis situations, and about his hopes that this can be a teachable moment for those care providers that have yet to link up with an HIE.

Describe what's happening in New York City right now.

All the services – electricity, Internet – all those things are really struggling right now in Manhattan and in some surrounding counties. Everybody's trying to make do, from a living perspective.

All the healthcare services have backup generators and backup systems, so they're not in duress. But the communities at large are just trying to learn how to live without at this point.

It's looking like some of the power outages might last a week or more in the outer counties, and then in the upstate region we're supposed to get several feet of snow, and so forth. So that'll be another wave of natural effects that could have impact.

For the most part, the data centers and all of our connectivity weathered through the storm well. It's a matter of people utilizing the services – where they might not have had access to information, they now do, as long as they can get an Internet connection.

What is NYeC doing to respond? Are your doing outreach to hospitals?

The hospitals that are receiving patients now, from some of the other hospitals that are having to move patients around, they have continuity because they are able to access the records through the HIE.

We're not having to do anything boots-on-the-street explicit. That's the power of the virtual network. For the most part this just happens naturally. It happens as part of the course of the network that's in place.


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