The Health Effects of Natural Disasters

August 7, 2019 HMS

It Goes Beyond Disaster-Related Injuries…

It’s not a surprise that natural disasters put stress on the healthcare system. Events like wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding can create all sorts of crisis-related injuries. Individuals affected by these accidents, however, represent only one part of the increased patient volume seen by healthcare providers during crisis situations.

2017 study conducted by the University of Michigan found that hospitalization rates increase after natural disasters, even after excluding patients admitted for disaster-related injuries. There are various reasons why this often occurs. Experts believe that when people evacuate, they often leave without critical medications. This exacerbates existing chronic medical conditions. Another contributor may be power outages. If individuals with in-home health devices like ventilators elect to stay at home without electricity, their health may be compromised.

There’s no question that natural disasters take a toll on the physical and mental health of those affected. HMS analyzed client data and discovered that people reporting concern about life necessities, such as food, shelter or safety, were eight times more likely to report high emotional stress and five times more likely to report poor physical health.

Member Communications in Times of Crisis

While it’s impossible to prevent natural disasters from occurring, health plans can proactively reach out to members with information that can reduce the negative health effects of these events. To reduce crisis-related stress on the healthcare system, HMS recently launched a comprehensive Crisis Management Outreach Program. Powered by HMS’ Eliza Health Engagement Solution, this offering enables organizations to communicate rapidly and compassionately with thousands—and even millions—of consumers about their coverage and access to care.  For example:

  • If there is advance notice that a hurricane or other major storm is approaching, health plans can identify members in the affected areas who require medication to manage chronic health conditions. Using this list, HMS Eliza can contact those individuals via interactive voice response calls, text messages, or emails and provide important information about renewing prescriptions before the storm hits. These messages can also underscore the importance of medication adherence.
  • Once a natural disaster occurs, people may need to evacuate. HMS can help you rapidly send public safety information to members, including directions to shelters which have electricity to power critical health devices. Plans may also want to update members about out of network health coverage. These updates can help members stay safe and potentially avoid unnecessary hospitalizations.
  • The days following disasters can be just as difficult for people, as they struggle to come to terms with destruction and possible damage to their homes. Leading health plans leverage HMS’ Eliza solution to reach out to members and remind them about resources like behavioral health services, health coaches, and more.

The Crisis Management Outreach Program helps healthcare and government organizations take a proactive stance on crises and play an active role in managing their population’s health, safety, and well-being.

To learn more about this program, watch our short video here.

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