By: Paul D. Biddinger, MD, FACEP

Tags: patient safety , industry interactions

When hospitals assemble their emergency plans, the safety of patients, visitors, and staff is always a top concern, but at academic medical centers, there’s another important consideration to take into account: clinical research.

Clinical research brings its own concerns in an emergency. Years of work can be lost if paper notebooks are damaged by flood waters or frozen specimens thaw during a power outage. The nature of research brings organizational challenges, too. Some grant-funded staff in research labs may only work at a hospital for a year or two, so there’s a constant need to train new people on emergency procedures.

At Partners HealthCare, many of our researchers have taken steps and created plans to manage emergencies in their labs, but they have tended to conduct these activities independently of the other emergency preparedness activities occurring at the hospital. While Massachusetts was spared from the worst of Hurricane Sandy, we saw the terrible impacts on research colleagues at places like NYU Langone Medical Center, and we began to look at our own research preparedness from a new perspective.

Three Key Steps Toward an Integrated Approach

Healthcare emergency management frameworks and best practices typically focus on patient operations; most are not created for academic medical centers, but for traditional hospitals.

Since September is National Preparedness Month, it’s a good opportunity to think about research preparedness and how it should be integrated into a hospital’s broader emergency plans.

Here are four important steps to get started:

1. Integrate research leadership into your Hospital Incident Command Structure (HICS) so that your entire organization is represented in decision making, communications, and resource allocation during an emergency.

2. Ensure every member of a research lab can answer these questions:

  • How will you hear about an emergency?
  • Who will you report to?
  • What is your role in your lab’s emergency response plans?

3. Identify essential and irreplaceable assets in your lab and take steps to protect them.

4. Collaborate with, and take advantage of, emergency management expertise and resources that already exist within the hospital.

An integrated approach to emergency planning is key to ensuring appropriate resources will be allocated to research teams during a hospital emergency. Integrated plans also help make sure the response is coordinated and efficient across research teams and with other parts of the hospital.

How Partners Is Tackling Research Preparedness

At Partners, we’re modifying our own emergency response plans to include steps to safeguard research. We’re learning from fellow researchers down at NYU and working with our colleagues elsewhere in academic medicine.

We’re also working outside the Emergency Preparedness program to collaborate with teams across our system for a more integrated approach. Earlier this year, we brought together staff from clinical operations, research management, communications and information security roles at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network to share best practices and challenges related to research preparedness and develop strategies to improve as a system and within the hospitals.

This fall, we’ll be launching a 10-minute training module to encourage improved emergency planning among researchers, because the best time to address an emergency is long before it ever takes place.