Researchers propose framework for long-term primary care after disasters

Researchers at the University of South Carolina recently published a study that proposed a framework to understand how the medical system can modify the secondary surge that occurs after disasters.

Jennifer Davis Runkle, a researcher at the University of South Carolina and Emory University, and her team defined a disaster as an unusual public health event that can overwhelm the initial surge capacity of an affected health system. Disasters often lead to a secondary surge in casualties because of the subsequent need for long-term health care. The researchers applied a health services use model to identify areas of vulnerability in at-risk populations seeking care following a disaster, MedScape reports.

The team found that subgroups such as the terminally ill, homeless, minority populations, children, mentally disabled and elderly can have health needs aggravated, created and overlooked during disaster response efforts. Limited evidence demonstrates that vulnerable populations experience treatment delays after the acute response of a disaster.

Runkle and her team proposed that to support everyday preparedness efforts at local, state and federal levels, the healthcare system should develop and evaluate evidence-based disaster management and community recovery strategies, test the applications of ambulatory care-sensitive conditions as a public health surveillance measure of health system performance, promote information sharing between the healthcare system and health departments to inform decision-making, modify tele-health programs for continuity in chronic disease management and care, and increase technology to support the widespread and mobility accessibility for providers, MedScape reports.

"In particular, continued monitoring of primary care utilization for populations vulnerable to disaster should become standard public health practice to capture changes in need and access over time," the researchers said, according to MedScape.

The study was published in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health.