Hospitals and hospital systems follow the Hospital Incident Command System guidelines to provide a methodical approach to the management of scaled incident response operations. Potential hospital incident types can vary greatly, with examples that include:
- Participation in disaster or mass casualty incident response operations
- Disease outbreaks
- Incidence of highly-infectious patients
- Large-scale public events
- Hospital surge situations
- Internal infrastructure issues
The HICS methodology, framed by distinct plan, respond and recover phases, can be effectively applied to any incident type.
Incident preparation starts with the identification of potential incident types, then pulls together role-driven response actions and supporting documentation into incident type-specific response guides. It is also crucial to identify sufficient numbers of qualified staff that can assume the required roles.
Time and effort dedicated to the planning phase helps ensure a successful response operation. That said, real life rarely follows a script and incidents, regardless of the type, can come with little or no warning.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a lecture on emerging infectious disease presented by Dr. Stephen C. Redd, the Center for Disease Control’s Director of Public Health Preparedness and Response. While he could not stress enough the value and significance of preparedness, he cautioned that even the most well-thought-out response plan will not eliminate the challenges that may be encountered.
Because information is dynamic and tends to lag, the key to successful outcomes, according to Dr. Redd, is dependent upon the ability to rapidly identify and appropriately route issues. This requires effective decision-making and recommendations in order to get the right information to the right people, at the right time. It is no surprise that Julie Bulson, Director of Emergency Preparedness at Spectrum Health, identified communications and notifications as areas for improvement following a recent, major infectious disease incident.
Hospitals should consider equipping themselves with a HICS-driven tool to establish the framework required to rapidly stand up incident-specific response operations. This solution should provide the ability to adopt and execute incident response plans to meet anticipated needs and enable health care facilities to:
- Upload files
- Build a comprehensive document library
- Establish incident-specific command structures
- Build position depth charts, labor pools and critical contacts
- Associate incident response guides
- Provide multi-modal communication options, with feedback loops and ongoing communications and objectives status updates
- Incorporate incident activities and communications into after action reports
The ideal solution should also be flexible enough to accommodate unanticipated variables and promote real-time, collaborative problem identification and resolution. Effective preparation is crucial to determine appropriate actions. Successful incident management, however, rests on the ability to consume and synthesize information in real time. Streamlining this process will better position hospitals and hospital systems to meet the challenges introduced by unavoidable surprises.