Hospital Bed Capacity Tracking and Preparedness

The Affordable Care Act has brought a number of changes to the American healthcare landscape, the most well-known of which is the health insurance mandate, the result of which will theoretically increase the number of Americans with health insurance coverage. Here at Health Monitoring Systems, we are closely monitoring the effects of the ACA on emergency department utilization, but also of interest to public health is a provision regarding funding for regional systems for emergency care, including real-time tracking of hospital bed availability.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the event of a terrorist attack, we “should anticipate profound challenges in adequately caring for the surge of victims,” which would be anticipated to occur within minutes of a mass casualty incident. In any mass-casualty scenario, it would be of the utmost importance to have accurate, real-time tracking abilities to monitor the availability of healthcare resources and to divert patients to the appropriate locations for care. Of particular interest would be the availability of beds for emergency, trauma, burn, critical care, and pediatric patients.

Accordingly, Section 3504 of the Affordable Care Act (Design and Implementation of Regionalized Systems for Emergency Care) provides funding for a number of initiatives aimed at improving emergency care response, such as a pilot project to track healthcare resources “including inpatient bed capacity, emergency department capacity, trauma center capacity, on-call specialist coverage, ambulance diversion status, and the coordination of such tracking with regional communications and hospital destination decisions.” Some of this information is currently available through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Hospital Available Beds for Emergencies and Disasters (HAvBED) system. Currently providers reporting to HAvBED have the option to do so either via automated data feed, or by using a manual data-entry tool in the HAvBED user interface.

Unfortunately, during a mass-casualty incident, manual data entry takes valuable human resources that may be better used elsewhere. The CDC reports that ideal patient tracking systems should be capable of automated reporting to ensure the accessibility of timely data during a disaster, when the influx of patients into a facility can be rapid.

For example, during the Madrid train bombings in March of 2004, the CDC reports that the hospital closest to the attacks saw a surge of 272 patients within a 2.5 hour period. A surge of this nature goes above and beyond the expected ebb and flow of patients in an acute care setting, and has the ability to overwhelm healthcare providers. When a region is faced with a surge of acute care patients, the ability to divert them accurately and quickly is of the utmost importance, and healthcare informatics like automated bed availability tracking are a crucial part of an emergency response. As a leader in electronic data collection, Health Monitoring Systems is currently researching the feasibility of collecting and reporting this data on an automated basis.

With existing connections to hundreds of hospitals nationwide, Health Monitoring Systems is uniquely positioned to work with both healthcare providers and public health in the field of emergency preparedness through hospital bed availability tracking. We hope that moving forward with this endeavor could provide hospitals with a stepping stone toward facilitating greater preparedness for a worst-case scenario.