Big Data Analytics, HIE Could Aid Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts

Direct Relief is using Palantir's data-visualization tools to analyze recovery resource needs as New York State's health information exchange network enables cloud access to medical records following hospital evacuations.

With the East Coast recovering from a natural disaster it hadn't seen in nearly 75 years, health care IT tools are available to help officials and hospitals respond to those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

When a backup generator failed at New York University Langone Medical Center, hospital workers heroically shuttled patients to other local facilities in the New York area. Medical records are able to travel with them through the state's health information exchange (HIE) when patients move from one hospital to another, David Whitlinger, executive director of the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), told eWEEK.

The HIE is called Statewide Health Information Network for New York (SHIN-NY). NYU Langone was unable to respond to eWEEK's request for comment.

About 78 percent of hospitals in the New York City area are connected to the HIE, said Whitlinger.

"We have data that's being used by a lot of hospitals at this point as patients are being transitioned around the city," said Whitlinger.

"As patients are moving from one hospital to another because of the physical displacement, such as you see at NYU, we're able to provide records to the receiving hospital through the state network, and that gives us good continuity of care as the patient transitions," he said.

In addition to Sandy, an HIE such as SHIN-NY could have been helpful on Sept. 11, 2001, when people went from hospital to hospital looking for loved ones, said Whitlinger.

"We get a notice that Jane Doe is admitted to NYU, that's in our network, we do a quick search and get an admission record saying Jane Doe is at NYU," Whitlinger explained.

The redundancy of data in the network has also proven valuable as hospital systems go down and patients are transferred to various locations, said Whitlinger.

Storing health data in the cloud enables hospitals to avoid losing records in the event of a disaster and the region's hospitals scatter their data in data centers along the East Coast or in redundant data centers in the Midwest, Whitlinger noted.

Mixing on-site storage with co-locations or off-site facilities "allows hospitals to mitigate the risk of failure and maximize the rate of recovery," Cletis Earle, vice president and CIO at St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital, told eWEEK in an email. Cornwall is a clinical affiliate of The Mount Sinai Hospital.

Although the HIEs aren't using applications that doctors are familiar with, they do offer a helpful tool for care transitions, as required in New York City in Sandy's wake, according to Earle.

"HIEs do offer data sharing via [continuity of care documents, or CCDs] and make transitioning patients from one system to another a welcome approach in patient care, as clinicians will be able to treat patients as they arrive from disparate hospital [health information system] locations," said Earle.

Direct Relief Uses Big Data to Identify Areas of Need

Direct Relief, an emergency response organization, is using analytic and data visualization tools from Palantir Technologies to determine which parts of the region might need equipment, health resources, food and shelter, according to Andrew Schroeder, director of research and analysis at Direct Relief.

Palantir's data-visualization tools are used to bring data into a common location and perform analysis and pattern detection, Schroeder told eWEEK.

"We're using this software by Palantir to pull a lot of data into one space, to see how the storm is affecting communications with our partners," he said.

Direct Relief is working with Rx Response to determine what health centers might need emergency medication.

The company's data-integration, visualization and analysis tools enable a company like Direct Relief to visualize the resources needed for emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy. Data tools enable officials to make decisions on where to deploy equipment, health resources, food and shelter, according to Direct Relief.

The software allows Direct Relief to see potential supply-chain bottlenecks in areas where medication and supplies might be needed.

The relief agency is working to determine how to help people who left their homes without medication—especially those needed to manage chronic health conditions, said Schroeder.

Direct Relief has donated an initial $250,000 and its $25 million stockpile of medication to support health clinic partners in areas Hurricane Sandy has affected.

"In large populated areas such as NYC, with many possible health care partners, it’s extremely difficult to provide rapid real-time care transition during a natural disaster," said St. Luke's Earle.

Ad hoc analyses of budgeting needs and scheduling estimates based on prior storms would be helpful as recovery and relief spending begins, Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and author of the Healthcare IT Guy blog, told eWEEK in an email.

"Big data solutions are only as good as the models they are built upon," added John Moore, an analyst at Chilmark Research. "They have plenty of potential to assist in both preparation and relief efforts, and they will play an ever greater role in such activities in the future."