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IOM: Medical Disaster Planning 'Rudimentary at Best'

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, March 26, 2012

Years after lessons gleaned from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornado, and California wildfires, health systems and government agencies throughout the country are ill-prepared to grapple with major medical catastrophes.

That's the conclusion of a 566-page report from the Institute of Medicine, which calls for communities and health providers across the country to develop "crisis standards of care" (CSC) to respond to catastrophes.

It's necessary "to make sure that emergency medical system teams, public health departments, emergency room management, law enforcement and the healthcare community are all operating off of the same plan," Dan Hanfling, MD, vice-chairman of the report committee, an emergency physician at Inova Health System in Falls Church, VA, explained in an interview.

"What we have seen in the aggregate is a patchwork of capabilities, and we think that there's room for improvement across the board."  Hanfling adds that providers and the populations they serve should all think of these terrible events as "predictable surprises, because we know they're going to happen," and to think ahead of how they should be managed, and of some of the ethical and legal questions they may pose as to the allocation of scarce resources like medical equipment and supplies.

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