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Improving Integration of Pediatric Practices in Disaster Preparedness

January 27, 2014

Esther ChernakEsther Chernak, MD, MPH, FACP (right), and Tom Hipper, MSPH, MA, of the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication at the Drexel University School of Public Health, recently collaborated with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop a strategic plan and recommendations for better integrating community pediatric practices into disaster preparedness in Pennsylvania.

Chernak presented the project's findings and plan at an Institute of Medicine (IOM) Workshop, "Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Considerations for Children and Families," in June 2013. The IOM published a summary report of this workshop last month. Chernak's project begins on page 38 of this report.

“Our focus was to provide a needs analysis of pediatric providers in the community with respect to emergency preparedness,” said Chernak, who is the director of the CPHRC and an associate professor at the School of Public Health.  “We also identified the expectations of health departments and provided recommendations to improve the integration and coordination of pediatric providers during emergencies.”

According to Chernak, the findings were not surprising. Among the initial findings, it was noted that pediatricians had a limited understanding of the public health system, but were interested in a just-in-time infrastructure for training during a disaster.  Most pediatricians felt they had expertise to share with patients, and wanted information before it is distributed to the public so they can speak knowledgeably about the issue when patients call.

Similarly, public health departments had limited understanding of pediatric practices, and did not recognize the potential of pediatricians for disaster communications during emergencies.  Public health departments also over-estimated the capacity of outpatient practices to accommodate a surge of patients.

“With a baseline of understanding of needs, we developed recommendations for public health departments and pediatricians to better integrate their efforts and improve patient outcomes during emergencies,” said Chernak.

The recommendations focused on collaborative planning, bi-directional communication, children with special health care needs and communications between practices and the public.  >> See List of Recommendations

“A systems-based approach to thinking about public health and health care is critical to the integration of pediatricians and public health departments during emergencies,” said Chernak.

The process for developing the recommendations included a literature review and interviews with thought leaders and stakeholders in pediatrics, public health, emergency management, information technology, human services, health insurance and schools/child care.

The report noted that technology, resources, and cultural dissonance are some of the major challenges to progress in this area.

The work was completed for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which funded the study through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Cooperative Agreement.