Health IT was critical to caring for Boston bombing patients

CIOs from three of Boston's elite hospitals discuss its impact on patient care
By Bernie Monegain
12:00 AM
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As a Bostonian and an emergency physician, Jonathan Teich's first instinct when the explosions shook the Boston Marathon on April 15 ordinarily would have been to rush to Brigham & Women’s Hospital to help treat the victims, many of whom had life-threatening injuries.

But this Patriot’s Day, it was different. Teich’s son and brother-in-law were both running the marathon. His brother-in-law crossed the finish line at the time of the second explosion – unhurt. Teich’s son, just a couple of miles back, was among the runners diverted off course. So an anxious Teich waited for that first text message saying he was OK. It would be two hours, though, before father and son were reunited.

Once he had seen for himself his boy was all right, Teich called Brigham & Women’s ED, where he is on duty most Friday nights, to see what he could do to help. By then the hospital was adequately staffed. 

Emergency physician is one of several roles Teich assumes in his professional life. He also serves as chief medical informatics officer for Elsevier and as assistant professor of medicine at Harvard.

All three roles keep him immersed in the world of informatics and health IT.

"There are several aspects to information management in a disaster," he says. "As you can imagine, this is a situation full of many more patients with much higher acuity than we're used to, often with types of problems, such as blast injuries, that we train for but do not see very often."

However, at the Brigham & Women's, Teich said, there are ED physicians who spend a lot of their time going to disaster sites around the world, taking care of crisis situations, from Haiti to Indonesia.

“Over time," he said, "they have developed some small but functional documentation, record-keeping and specific management systems that are very helpful in this kind of once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) situation here in the U.S."

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

John Halamka, MD, the CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a practicing emergency physician and Harvard professor, was on a flight returning from Los Angeles, when he started receiving real-time Twitter feeds, video and email about the explosions.

BIDMC’s director of support services assured him all systems were go.

"From an IT perspective," Halamka said, "maintaining a high bandwidth, reliable and secure infrastructure was key. The demand for communication – voice, email, social media and streaming video was very high. The scalability built into the design of all our systems – networks, servers, storage, and client devices – served us well."

“I was in touch with all my managers and staff by 4 p.m.," said Halamka. "There were no open IT issues."

“Aside from the shock and eventual anger we all felt at having this happen in our home town, it was a typical operational day."

Boston Children's Hospital

Daniel Nigrin, senior vice president for information services and CIO at Boston Children’s Hospital, was out of town during the explosions, leaving Scott Ogawa, chief technology officer and deputy CIO, in charge. Anytime an incident is declared the overall 'incident commander' will contact the entire HICS team and within minutes, we are connected to discuss the specifics and assignments are given.

"In this case," said Ogawa, "we were largely in a support role to the many clinical resources who mobilized with pretty amazing speed."

Partners HealthCare

Partners HealthCare in Boston, founded by Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Mass General Hospital, includes the Center for Connected Health in Boston and 11 community hospitals in the Boston suburbs.

“Thirteen hospitals received 180 victims, and they received the finest care from physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers,” Jim Noga, vice president and CIO of Partners, told Healthcare IT News.

IT’s role is subordinate to the direct care providers, Noga said.

“It is our job to ensure we make available to them the IT resources they need,” he said.