Infectious Disease Outbreak

Preparing for an Infectious Disease Outbreak: Six Things Healthcare Facilities Need to Know

Studies conducted in the aftermath of the 2014 Ebola outbreak lead to one conclusion – the world is not prepared for the next infectious disease outbreak. Researchers found that serious improvement is needed in three areas: reforming the World Health Organization, improving research and knowledge sharing, and better compliance with International Health Regulations.

Analysis of the Ebola response suggests there was a perfect storm of widespread, consistent media coverage, an overabundance of commentary around response and excessive committee meetings that prevented some healthcare facilities from ever devising a plan—similar to the 2002 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak and the 2009 H1N1 Influenza Pandemic. Unfortunately, there were not enough cases of Ebola to get the optimal response that the previous two events facilitated after initial over-reaction, so issues now remain.

Although Ebola was discovered in 1976 and extensive research has been conducted around its transmission, treatment, and on the personal protective gear needed for someone suspected of and diagnosed with the disease, the 2014 response fell flat. With our modern healthcare facilities, advanced equipment, and infectious disease leadership, it would seem we should have had an easier time diagnosing and treating the disease. However, as much of the 41 years of research was conducted overseas versus in the United States, there seems to have been a disconnect.

To prevent chaos in the event of another outbreak, healthcare facilities can implement these six practices:

  1. Let your emergency management (EM) team lead. Your EM team is skilled at communicating across disciplines to keep people informed – a specialized skill that is not usually part of a clinician practice. Infectious disease response is a multi-disciplinary effort, and an emergency management team’s strength is the ability to bring together experts, coordinate a response, and develop plans of action. 
  2. Utilize a team of experts, not committees. Assemble a team of experts, prepare guidance and communication, and use that team as the source of information for your organization. The team members can also serve as liaisons to their peers to distribute messaging and solicit feedback. This will help prevent delay in proper response.
  3. Select a source. Pick one and follow-through. Relying on “copy and paste” among agencies and experts will lead to confusion to your field teams. Everyone has an opinion, but select one to highlight and stand by.
  4. Communicate early, often, and honestly. Keep everyone informed, keep the designated caregivers trained, and don’t let cable TV be your information source.
  5. Collaborate with local public safety providers and public health departments. Be not only the infectious disease expert for your facility, but your community. Healthcare providers understand infectious disease, standard, droplet, and airborne precautions. Prehospital providers understand level A, B, C, and D protection primarily for chemical emergencies. Understanding these differences will help prevent a miscommunication around the event.
  6. Identify the event’s distinct end. Eventually, the event will end.  Plan for it, acknowledge it, and notify everyone that the event is over. This will serve as a signal to the community that they may return to normal. Following the event, evaluate it and use the lessons learned in your facility and community to make improvements and precautionary plans for the future.

About the Author

Scott Cormier is the Vice President of Emergency Management, Environment of Care (EOC) and Safety at Medxcel Facilities Management, specializing in facilities management, safety, environment of care and emergency management and provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, saving and efficiencies for healthcare organizations that, in turn, improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff. Cormier leads the development and implementation of emergency management, general safety, security, fire protection, life safety and accident-prevention programs for a national network of hospitals that Medxcel Facilities Management serves. 

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