The recent hurricane in Texas has cast a spotlight on the importance of disaster preparedness at every level, from the coordination of large scale relief efforts to each individual having a plan they can put into action. When an impending storm, disaster, or emergency poses a threat to a person’s health and safety, it is critical that they have an appropriate emergency plan in place to avoid interruptions in ongoing treatment or a shortage of necessary life-saving medication. For many people living with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, etc., a disaster of such a large magnitude, like the one in Texas, can cripple healthcare service delivery, exacerbate a person’s symptoms, and cause a potentially life threatening disruption of treatment.
Initially, the best plan of action is always to evacuate the affected area before the disaster occurs. Because this is not possible for some people, it’s best to have realistic precautions in place if the worst case scenario happens.
Five essential storm preparation tips for people with chronic illnesses:
- Refill All Necessary Prescriptions From Your Pharmacy: This may be obvious but it’s an essential first step, and must be done before the disaster can affect your access to a pharmacy. In many cases, insurance companies will place an automatic override on patients’ medications in the potentially affected area so that people with chronic conditions can be prepared to manage their illness in the event of an emergency. For the most prepared among us, it is recommended to call your doctor and set up a treatment plan prior to any predictable natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado or earth quake, if you live in areas prone to those events. They will help set up proactive refills for you.
- Safe Storage of Medications: Storm damage such as flooding, power outages, freezing, and contamination can all render various medications ineffective for patients. In order to continue effective care for a chronic condition, it is important to be prepared with precautions such as coolers and ice to keep refrigerated medications cold, waterproof or insulated containers to avoid getting medications wet, or protective storage to prevent contamination of the medication.
- Patient Knowledge of Medications: Providers must make sure that their patients enduring long-term treatment for a chronic condition are aware of their specific medications, instructions, allergies, and treatment plan in advance of the disruption of care, so that patients can relay this information to other providers in the event they are relocated due to the disaster. Providers can also put the start of a patient’s treatment plan on hold prior to a pending storm, but providers must weigh the benefits vs. risks of delaying treatment for a patient’s condition.
- Medical Records: The importance of having a back-up hard copy and a digital copy of your medical record and related health information cannot be understated. With this hard copy, a provider unfamiliar with your case will be able to assist you in the best possible way that they can during an emergency. It may also be helpful for patients suffering from chronic conditions to wear bracelets or a badge notifying a provider or the public of their condition, medications, adverse reactions, allergies etc., in the event the person is not able to communicate or care for themselves properly. A digital copy saved on a smart phone can also be very helpful in a pinch. Both will give physicians and pharmacists proof of active prescriptions. Your local pharmacy or your specialty pharmacist can help with obtaining copies. In addition, carrying copies (paper and digital) of your medical insurance, Medicare and Medicaid cards readily available is also advisable, as it may be hard to search when systems are down. And finally, proof of residency such as an electricity bill may be needed to re-establish insurance and other disaster assistance when the time comes.
- Connection to Your Community: It’s beneficial to expand your circle and establish relationships within your community, such as neighbors and close friends, in case an emergency occurs. This will ensure that you will have someone who is knowledgeable about your condition and can oversee any care for you in the event of a disaster.
For more emergency preparedness resources please check out the following websites:
- National Preparedness Month – “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You can.”: https://www.ready.gov/september
- Emergency Preparedness – Keeping Medications Safe: https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/HealthProfessionals/ucm486286.htm
- Kate Smullen, PharmD, CSPTM (Certified Specialty Pharmacist) at Shields Health Solutions
- Carolkim Huynh, PharmD, (Pharmacist) at Shields Health Solutions and Hurricane Katrina survivor