GIS-based tool protects patients during power outages

'With the rise in home-based care, real-time awareness of population-level needs, and the ability to respond to them, is critical'
By Mike Miliard
10:30 AM
power outage

New geographic information system technology developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services aims to help community health agencies and emergency management officials protect those patients who rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment.

The emPOWER Map from HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response is aimed at 1.6 million Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries whose medical and assistive equipment – oxygen concentrators, ventilators, wheelchairs – depends on a steady supply of electricity.

The online tool shows the monthly total number of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries' claims for electricity-dependent equipment at the national, state, territory, county and zip code levels. It then incorporates that data with real-time severe weather tracking services from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a GIS.

The integrated data can help hospitals, first responders and electric utility officials better plan to prevent adverse health impacts of prolonged power outages due to storms and natural disasters.

"With the rise in home-based care, real-time awareness of population-level needs, and the ability to respond to them, is critical," said Nicole Lurie, MD, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, at HHS in a June 23 press statement.

The emPOWER Map could be used by electric utility companies to determine priority areas for restoring electrical service based on the location of the largest concentrations of electricity-dependent individuals, for example, helping providers and EMS teams prepare for surges in medical services.

Emergency planners could also use the map to anticipate whether emergency shelters might experience greater electricity demand due to higher concentrations of electricity-dependent Medicare beneficiaries, or better gauge the need for transportation and evacuation when local mass transit systems are affected by prolonged power outages, according to HHS officials.

Information in the emPOWER Map is presented in a way that protects patient privacy, but in an emergency, additional information can be made available to a health department to facilitate life-saving emergency response in a HIPAA-compliant manner.

"For people who rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment, prolonged power outages can mean life or death," said Lurie. "This tool helps communities better anticipate, plan for, and respond to these unique needs of this population and improve resilience for the entire community before and after disasters."