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The Sequoia Project Developing Nationwide Health IT Disaster Response Platform

May 7, 2018
by Heather Landi
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When disaster strikes, such as natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, families are relocated to shelters in their community or even further afield, which makes refilling prescriptions and meeting other healthcare needs more challenging. To address this challenge, the Sequoia Project, in support of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), is developing a nationwide deployment plan for the health IT disaster response platform known as the Patient Unified Lookup System for Emergencies (PULSE).

The PULSE platform was activated in California for the 2017 wildfires, and many area health systems and providers rallied behind the effort.

Experts from two offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)—initially conceived the idea for PULSE following experiences in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Well-meaning physicians and providers flocked to shelters to help, but the shelters could not confirm medical credentials of the volunteers, and the volunteers could not access evacuee health records.

“Disasters and other events are unpredictable and disruptive and place unique demands on public health, private sector healthcare, first responders and other key resources,” Mariann Yeager, CEO of The Sequoia Project, said in a statement. “People need seamless healthcare, whether for emergency care or just uninterrupted prescription access, when they are displaced by a disaster.”

The new PULSE advisory council, which will inform the project’s progress, will leverage these early experiences to guides efforts to deploy PULSE in other states and regions by informing governance, activities and policies on a national-level platform to enable sharing among disaster healthcare volunteers and community providers.

The advisory council is composed of subject matter experts who bring unique insight from federal and state government, emergency response organizations, health information networks, healthcare provider organizations and clinicians. Representatives appointed to date include:

California Association of Health Information Exchanges (CAHIE) – Rim Cothren, executive director

California Emergency Medical Services Authority (CalEMSA) – Dan Smiley, chief deputy director

CMS – Tom Novak, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Medicaid interoperability lead

Emergency Physician – Dr. Mark Cohen, fire department and EMS medical director

Healthcare Provider Organization – Sean Turner, senior director interoperability and population health IT, Dignity Health

HHS Intergovernmental and External Affairs – Lee Stevens, senior policy advisor

HHS Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) – Kristen Finne, senior program analyst and emPOWER program manager

ONC – Rachel Abbey, public health analyst

Technical Implementation – Jeremy Wong, director of master data management services, Audacious Inquiry

Texas e-Health Alliance (TEHA) – Nora Belcher, executive director

“PULSE is a public-private collaborative effort focused on ensuring our cities, counties and states are ready for when the next disaster strikes,” Yeager said. “Disasters and other serious events are inevitable, but how we handle them improves daily, and this effort will help communities take an important step forward toward more effective disaster response.”


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