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Hurricane's Impact Crippled My Medical Practice

Hurricane's Impact Crippled My Medical Practice

Let me first say that my fellow New Jerseyans who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy and the recent nor’easter are in my thoughts and prayers. While I am about to tell you of the recent inconveniences that I and my office have endured, we are well aware that they are exactly that — inconveniences — and they pale in comparison to the suffering that is going on today in other nearby towns.

Well, Mother Nature seems to have it in for New Jersey lately. I blame Snooki. We didn’t have earthquakes, tornadoes, and freak storms until she and "The Situation" came along.

We have experienced storms before. We have had patients cancel due to rain and snow. I have had to close the office due to weather. We have also had brief interruptions in power, phone, and Internet service. But we have never had such a shutdown as we did post-Sandy.

The week before Sandy, I tried to be optimistic. I kept hoping the storm would turn east and leave us alone. We discouraged patients from canceling their appointments, because there was no good place on the schedule to put them. Come Sunday morning, it was clear that she was still a-comin’ so I decided we had to close the office Monday.

So my associate and I called the patients ourselves from home. Most of them understood but there were a couple who gave me a hard time. Really? I didn’t invite Sandy, and a state of emergency had already been declared in our state and I wasn’t going to risk the safety of my patients or staff. Monday morning came and wasn’t too bad, but the worst was yet to come, so then we called Tuesday’s patients to cancel. Monday night we lost power.

Losing power meant losing access to the EHR. That meant no access to the schedule, to patient’s phone numbers, to anything. Losing power also meant no phone. Fortunately, we use our phone company’s voice mail service which gets forwarded to our cell phones. Well, I say fortunately, but guess what — my cell phone also wasn’t working; at least not consistently. I would briefly have signal, then lose it.

Our patients also had the problem of not being able to get prescriptions filled. The pharmacies were closed. They had no power, no phones, and no fax. Oh, and did you know that Medicare will only allow pharmacies to fill a prescription for diabetes testing supplies if there is a hard copy of the prescription? Phoned in prescriptions don’t cut it (neither do electronic prescriptions, but that wasn’t the issue last week). A faxed prescription will do, but you can’t fax if you don’t have power!

Patients wanted their lab results — and I couldn’t access them. I couldn’t call the lab for results either. Everything was at a complete standstill. Patients scheduled for outpatient tests couldn’t get them done.

After three days of no power and no patients (or patience), we hooked the office up to a generator. That let us use the phone, fax, and computers, but we were in the dark and it was cold. We saw whatever patients could make it in, which wasn’t many as they either had no power or no gas. That was Friday. We were going to do it all again on Monday, so Sunday morning we hooked everything back up in preparation, but, Hallelujah! Sunday afternoon we got power.

We were back up and running Monday. We are trying to reschedule everyone who couldn’t be seen last week. We are seeing patients before and after our usual hours.

There is still a lot to do. And many of our patients still have no power (or lost it again in the nor’easter). We can’t contact some of them, probably because they are not in their homes, or maybe it’s because they have no phone service. Many are just grateful that their homes are intact and their family is safe.

 
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