Texas will have the capability to reunite families displaced by natural disasters this hurricane season, according to George Gooch, CEO of the Texas Health Services Authority (THSA).
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THSA manages HIETexas, the state-level health information network, by coordinating the exchange of privacy-protected patient health records between patients and their providers. The exchange is operated through emergency department encounter notifications (EDEN) and the patient unified lookup system for emergencies (PULSE) programs.
The PULSE system provides medical professional disaster response volunteers with access to electronic health information during declared disasters in alternate care sites, while EDEN provides healthcare organizations with real-time admit-discharge-transfer (ADT) data from acute and post-acute facilities statewide.
In an interview with State of Reform, Gooch outlined how the most recent system updates will better help families looking for their loved ones during a natural disaster.
“What’s been in development recently is how those two programs work together because it’s not just querying and retrieving clinical information and medication history to provide better health outcomes in these alternate care sites, but PULSE also leverages the ADT feed from EDEN for family reunification.
[When a lost child says], ‘I’ve been separated from my mother or father,’ the PULSE administrator is then able to turn and access that EDEN ADT feed to see, ‘Is that person recently admitted, discharged, or transferred across one of the facilities supported by EDEN?’ and [the administrator] can act as the intermediary to get in contact with the hospital and say, ‘Hey, do you have lost parents because we have a lost child? We’d like to go about the right way of reconnecting them.’
So it’s really taking a unique perspective to help people in a time when they’re most vulnerable.”
EDEN was launched in 2019, and PULSE was launched in 2020—both have been updated to support the 2023 Texas hurricane season, from June through November, with interstate coordination of disaster relief through PULSE access.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a “near-normal” hurricane season for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions this summer with five to nine hurricanes expected.
A recent survey by the Census Bureau found that over 3.3 million Americans were displaced by natural disasters in 2022. Most of the 308,000 Texans displaced by natural disasters were affected by hurricanes.
“If they’re checking in to a specific medical shelter, it makes very clear that’s why they’re there for that [medical] purpose, or it can work in general population shelters that have a specified medical shelter component to it. Even then they’re going to be checking into that medical area within the general population shelter and that’s how everything always stays very tied to the provider-patient treatment relationship.”
Gooch is part of a workgroup within the Texas Interoperability Collaborative that recently started studying the implementation of a health data utility (HDU) framework, an initiative put forth by the national HIE trade association Civitas Networks for Health.
Civitas Networks for Health believes HDUs represent a “new paradigm to support multi-stakeholder, cross-sector needs,” serving as a data resource for utilization beyond clinical care delivery through multi-directional exchange.
“What started as getting data from point A to point B—but that happens in so many different ways today— [to now,] what is the real value proposition of the health information exchange organization in the light of taking big steps towards including social determinants of health and non-healthcare-related venues of care and how that affects healthcare?
How are HIEs utilized as the utility for the areas that they serve, and what do we need to do to make that next level [coordination] happen? Because it doesn’t always happen organically—that a food bank or the prison system might sign up to participate with an HIE, or any other [organizations] that are not just traditional healthcare, but very much do play a role in people’s health outcomes.”