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Doctoral Student Presents on Integrating Physicians into Disaster Preparedness

April 14, 2014

Rachel Peters, MPH '11, a doctoral candidate in Health Management and Policy, presented earlier this month on her work to help integrate primary care medical practices into disaster preparedness in Pennsylvania at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia's Public Health Day Symposium.

Her work has the potential to impact the state's 12,000 primary-care physicians and improve the outcomes after disasters for residents across the state.  Following is her research abstract.

Topic Area: Public Health and Healthcare System Coordination

Title: Integrating Community-Based Primary Care Physicians into Disaster Preparedness: Aligning Community Preparedness with Healthcare Preparedness

Program/Initiative: This program is a planning initiative intended to improve the integration of primary care community-based medical practices with public health department emergency preparedness efforts.

Description: Primary care physicians have important roles to play in public health emergencies, particularly during incidents with prolonged duration and recovery phases that produce sub-acute illness and morbidity and significant mental health impacts. Healthcare preparedness efforts in the last decade have focused on ensuring hospital capacity and readiness and public health agencies have done little to engage clinicians who practice in ambulatory settings, short of inviting them to participate in Medical Reserve Corps or similar volunteer initiatives.

The Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication (CPHRC) at the Drexel University School of Public Health is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) to integrate primary care medical practices - hospital or healthcare system-owned, independent practices, and community health centers – into disaster response and preparedness activities in Pennsylvania. This initiative emphasizes the work that primary care physicians perform in their usual office settings that is extremely valuable during disasters that impact the public health: caring for patients in the community, supporting medical countermeasure efforts, encouraging preparedness planning for high-risk patients with special healthcare needs, and communicating with patients who want guidance from their family doctor.

PA DOH and Drexel CPHRC are working with professional societies, healthcare systems, and directly with clinicians to distribute resources, develop planning materials, and improve communications to engage community practices. These efforts emphasize continuity of operations planning, improving bi-directional communication between public health agencies and practices, incorporating primary care physician representation in regional and state-wide healthcare coalitions and preparedness advisory committees, supporting the capacity of practices to communicate with patients during disasters, and providing resources that practices can use to encourage preparedness planning for patients with special medical needs. The program has the potential to impact the state’s 12,000 active primary care physicians and several million individuals who are engaged in primary care in Pennsylvania, particularly those with special healthcare needs, by improving their outcomes after disasters. This presentation will review the efforts to reach the primary care community in Pennsylvania and share the elements of that outreach that were most effective.