Emergency Management Healthcare

Program Management: A Holistic Take on Healthcare Emergency Management

Preparedness is important in every industry. But it’s especially so in healthcare, as many people’s health and safety rely on the continuity of services and operations.

As the role of preparedness and emergency management has grown in healthcare, response practitioners have developed and evolved their response toolkits. In healthcare, this has shifted to a more holistic approach to preparedness operations, ensuring nothing is forgotten when incidents (and audits and inspections) do happen.

This is where healthcare’s response practitioners have found the value of program management. And even though program management is a growing concept and still spreading through the industry, it’s worth exploring why it’s becoming a best practice.

Program Management

Since the 1990s, emergency management, as a practice, has grown and expanded, establishing a presence in almost every industry. At first glance, this widespread presence may not be apparent; that’s just a result of nomenclature, however. Emergency management and its principles are a prominent slice of operations for the majority of organizations.

Communities rely on the hospitals and healthcare facilities within them. Because of this relationship, hospitals and healthcare providers need to be able to handle an array of emergencies. Internal emergencies, like loss of power, and external ones, like patient surges from natural disasters, can all hinder an organization that doesn’t have emergency response infrastructure.

Having incident action plans (IAPs) and emergency response plans help healthcare providers respond to emergencies in the moment, adjust their operations to new circumstances, and provide the framework for the reversion to normal operations once an incident is over.

Initially, emergency management was largely isolated within organizations, and healthcare in particular. And that siloed approach worked at first. Given the complexity of healthcare and hospital operations, this looked like the right play as it limited the interference of emergency response operations with more delicate systems.

But, as a whole, healthcare is a heavily regulated industry. Some aspects of regulatory compliance are not dissimilar to emergency management principles, and sometimes even ask for the same outcomes. So, as understandings within the industry have developed, so too have healthcare emergency management programs; now, many operations, like Joint Commission certification, fall under an EM program’s umbrella.

The inclusive, all-bases-covered tactic is what’s called program management. And, just as we do with new ideas and technologies, there’s a reason it’s catching on and becoming a common practice within healthcare.

The Advantages of Program Management

Program management is appealing to healthcare because it has clear advantages. One of the most notable benefits of this practice is its centralizing effect.

Program management puts everything related to emergency and incident response under one roof. This greatly streamlines the management of preparedness operations, and ensures items like IAPs are high quality and especially effective when activated. As a whole, program management also prevents certain operations from being neglected, and adds to the rounding out of emergency response and preparedness measures of practitioners.

The close proximity program management forces between certain operations to bleed into each other. By closing these gaps via program management, bits of data can cross between operations and provide new insights and perspectives.

The data bridge program management creates within healthcare operations also cuts extra work from the to-do lists of hospitals’ emergency response practitioners. For example, as staff work on meeting Joint Commission standards, they may also hit the mark for certain CMS guidelines. And while staff are usually aware of these scenarios, program management helps ensure information is applied anywhere it’s valid within an organization’s operational scope.

Digital Program Management

When emergency management solidified as a practice, it almost exclusively used paper. As the discipline spread through industries, its practitioners stuck to what they knew.

Even in 2020, some emergency management programs run on paper and binders. Most, however, have adopted assisting technology for at least some operations. Many have also gone totally digital.

And it seems technology is the way to go now. Platforms give EOCs and practitioners advantages paper simply can’t offer.

This trend carries over to program management as well. While program management could technically be performed using paper, it’s inefficient to do so. Practitioners can now easily access digital emergency management platforms, and they should take advantage of platform availability to strengthen their organizations’ operations.

The goal of program management is to put everything in one place, generate bridges between operations where needed, and create a joint approach to emergency management and preparedness. These goals require information sharing, collaboration, and the application of accountability, conditions digital platforms meet.

If we revisit our data bridge scenario, the edge digital platforms give practitioners becomes clear. With just a little bit of set up, the information personnel log as part of Joint Commission inspections can automatically transfer relevant data to CMS reporting infrastructure within the same platform. A digital platform may also house communication tools for personnel to use, and track user actions to create virtual paper trails.

Staying Prepared

Program management, effectively, helps a hospital keep its promise of service to its community, and it’s becoming a best practice in healthcare as a result. The industry’s emergency managers understand a jointed approach translates to a facility that can better handle emergencies. It institutionalizes preparedness and sews together different emergency response efforts throughout and organizations.

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