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Emergency responders to California wildfire used a patient lookup system to harness volunteer providers

The tool, Patient Unified Lookup System, enabled volunteers to access patient information and and deliver quality care, especially medication.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

NASA Earth Observatory image of Camp fire by Joshua StevensNASA Earth Observatory image of Camp fire by Joshua Stevens

When it comes to responding to disasters like the recent wildfires in California, caring for displaced patients is hard enough. And it gets worse unless you have access to their health information. The Patient Unified Lookup System, known as PULSE, was developed for just that purpose. It's a web application that connects existing health information exchange organizations and other data sources to be used explicitly during disaster scenarios.

Developed through funding and oversight from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (Cal EMSA), PULSE was originally deployed in July 2017 and has been activated twice for wildfires in California, including in Butte County, where the Paradise community was ravaged by the Camp fire.

PULSE was literally the heartbeat of EMSA's operations on the ground, allowing volunteer providers to access patient information and get them the care they needed, especially medications, according to  Leslie Witten-Rood, program manager for California EMS Authority and part of the team sent up to Butte to deploy PULSE.

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The key thing for her, and a major takeaway as far as the pivotal role the tool can play, was helping to get prescriptions when people had frantically fled from their homes with only a little bit of medication or none at all. That was one of the impactful things in the shelters and a major way that PULSE helped boost the quality of care providers in the field delivered.

One patient whose information she looked up had two more days of his insulin left. She was able to work with doctors there by showing them his records so that they could get him a supply of his much-needed prescription.

"We are still providing that right now," Witten-Rood said.

She added that many people suffered major smoke inhalation and will now need treatment for asthma.

"There are patients that never had asthma before who now have asthma who will need albuterol and will have medical needs they never had before," she said. PULSE will have that information ready when those patients needs medication.

Witten-Rood, along with Robert Cothren, executive director of the California Association of HIEs, will delve into the evolution and success of PULSE at HIMSS19 in a session titled "Deploying a Disaster Response HIE Platform: PULSE California." It's scheduled for Thursday, February 14, from 2:30pm - 3:30pm in room W314B.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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