Health Information Exchange in Tornado Alley

by: Deepika Patel, Client Support Engineer, Corepoint Health
HIE Toolkit Task Force

We usually associate “Tornado Alley” with north Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa – disasters like the Joplin tornado of 2011 and both the 1999 and 2013 Oklahoma tornadoes stand out in our collective memory.  But there are many other states that are affected by tornadoes.  Over 400 tornadoes have been confirmed across the US so far this year, with 113 in April alone.

Emergency management and clinical crews providing treatment to victims need medical records and health information fast, often making a hospital or clinic’s decision to participate in HIE a true matter of life and death.  With health data safely stored digitally in a data center, data can be transferred in real time.  The continuity of care for patients does not have to be delayed or medical history considered unknown when determining which treatments to provide, because in many cases, the data is already available before the patient walks in the door.

HIE organizations receive, store and send patient data, acting as a central reserve for health information  and facilitating effective treatment during these storms as patients are routed to different hospitals.  When Moore Medical Center in Moore, Okla., was destroyed by a tornado in 2013, HIE support enabled patient care to continue without missing a beat.

HIOs can also have an impact on identifying potential new issues that can arise post-disaster.  As noted in recent tornado disasters, a certain percentage of helpers caught rare infections or were exposed to lead or other toxic chemicals that were released.  With HIOs gathering and analyzing data and working with public health agencies, more efficient and effective methods for combining health tracking, pre- and post-tornado, can better prepare emergency crews by providing a fluid response system with tools at the local and state levels to stay safe while cleaning up and providing care.  These methods can be tracked location to location, and can be used to create national preparation checklists to keep everyone as safe as possible.

HIOs and healthcare provider organizations can continue to grow and learn from tornadoes and other disasters by placing common policies in effect, and using flexible strategies as a basic foundation.  Locating and addressing common barriers and recognizing successful solutions can provide a roadmap for implementation, both within each state and across state lines.    With a solid network of HIE service providers, hospitals, primary care providers and emergency response personnel, providing medical care during and after tornadoes and other disasters across the county will become more informed and more effective, enabling victims to focus on rebuilding their homes and lives.

Look for local HIE providers on the HIMSS HIT State Dashboard.



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Joshua R Vest, L. D. (2010). Health information exchange: persistent challenges and new strategies. JAMIA, 6.

Kaitlin Benedict, B. J. (2014, March). Invasive Fungal Infections after Natural Disasters. Retrieved from Emerging Infectious Diseases:

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Purcell, S. (2012, December 12). Cluster of Deadly Fungal Infection Investigated in Post-Tornado Joplin, Missouri. Retrieved from The Disease Daily:

W. Randolph Daley, S. B. (2005). Risk of Tornado-Related Death and Inury in Oklahoma, May 3, 1999. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 161, No. 12, 6.


About Mari Greenberger, MPPA

Director of Informatics at HIMSS North America
This entry was posted in Health IT, HIEs and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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