When a tornado struck St. John’s Regional Medical Center in May 2011, its patient
records were stored in a newly launched electronic health record system, helping
prevent a bad situation from being worse.
By Matthew Russell
IN THE DAYS following the tornado that decimated Joplin, MO,
striking St. John’s Regional Medical Center and leaving more
than 115 dead across the region, St. John’s had a field hospital
set up and seeing up to 50 patients per day.
Despite the emergency conditions, patient records were relatively undisturbed. The hospital’s most vital patient information
was digital and backed up off site.
St. John’s had gone live with its new
electronic health record (EHR) system
just 21 days before the tornado struck.
If it had not, the situation at the facility
could have been much worse, according
to Tracy Clark, HIM director at St. John’s.
“The only paper records in the hospital
at the time of the disaster were the paper lite charts [e.g., consent forms and
records from other facilities] that were
on the units with current inpatients and
a few that were in the HIM department
waiting to be scanned into the system,”
Once St. John’s medical mobile unit
was functioning and clinicians could
document in the system, scanners were
set up to scan in the paper lite charts.
Once scanned and indexed, Clark says,
the charts were viewable to all users.
St. John’s and other local health systems still faced challenges in retrieving records and documenting care in the days and
weeks following the disaster, but digital systems and good processes kept a bad situation from being worse.
Restoring, Retrieving Records
All of St. John’s records prior to July 2005 were stored on microfilm or fiche and kept in carousels and cabinets. The microfilm
and fiche were retrieved from the facility and taken to an off-site
vendor to be cleaned of mold, Clark says.
The hospital notified the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Physician clinics required help, too.
“Some of our clinics still had paper re-
cords, which were also retrieved by the
vendor for drying and cleaning,” Clark
says. “Since the records that were re-
trieved were relatively old and since we
had access to our electronic systems
within a few days of the tornado, our op-
erations have been minimally affected.”
When St. John’s began to receive re-
ports of medical records and other pa-
tient information being found as far as 70 miles away, it posted
instructions on its Web site requesting that any found medical
records containing identifiable information be returned to the
hospital. It requested that any records not containing personal
health information that could be linked to a specific person be