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Telemedicine in Natural Disasters

Telehealthnatural disaster • 2 min read • Apr 28, 2015 12:00:00 AM • Written by: Brad Ranks


It seems like we are hearing about natural disasters occurring more and more as of late. Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and the like often invoke a sense of empathy or a desire to do something, but at the same time leave us feeling helpless to be able to do anything from thousands of miles away. It is out of this sentiment that telemedicine can step-up to play an important role in the response to natural disasters.

One of the biggest problems that occurs after a natural disaster is the collapse of health infrastructure in areas that were never designed to deal with the large influx in demand for care. In 2013 a nightclub fire in Brazil took the lives of 242 people. Hundreds of people were left in need of immediate care and the closest Level-1 trauma center hospital was located over 700 miles away. A telemedicine hub was set up to triage patients and to consult with local providers as nearly 100 patients were treated for respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation. All of the patients that were admitted to the local hospital survived as a result of the subsequent care that was delivered over the next several days under the direction of telemedicine providers. The providers that were a part of the telemedicine consults were able to determine exactly what sort of supplies needed to be sent to best help the healthcare infrastructure from collapsing.

Doctor in medical camp
A study published in the Journal of Medical Systems found that a telemedicine hub set up at a central command center following a natural disaster that connects with a network of specialists can improve survival rates and help decrease mortality rates associated with natural disasters.

While we cannot control natural disasters or prevent them from happening, we can control how we respond to them. Studies have shown that telemedicine can play a role in responding to disasters through triaging and consultations with specialists. As technology continues to become more widespread, we have the opportunity to create unique solutions to difficult problems, and we are given the opportunity to change “calling in backup” to a quite literal interpretation.

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Brad Ranks