Pandemic Panic: When Atypical Diseases Make an Appearance, it Can’t be Business as Usual

 patient safety protocols HIPAA privacy security

The world of healthcare is never stagnant, always changing and evolving. The ability to provide excellent patient care is at an all-time high; the diagnosis and treatment is sophisticated and as a result people are living stronger and healthier lives. But what happens when old diseases make a comeback and are bigger and stronger than ever before? Smallpox, TB, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and now Ebola. How do you keep a healthy community from panicking?

These “super” bugs force an immediate shift in healthcare procedures. HIPAA and patient safety training cannot be one off duty. Although these are annual requirements, the current landscape requires healthcare professionals to always stand ready.

When the first patient was diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., the CDC and local government worked to identify the hospital workers protocol and everyone she came in contact with. A hospital official released her name to CNN; were her HIPAA rights violated? What about those who came in contact with her? And future airline passengers traveling from Africa to the U.S., how will they be protected?

It’s an interesting predicament and may require policy changes and education. How do you protect the health of millions without violating the rights of one? What is even more worrisome is that the CDC protocol for infection diseases, seems to have failed and the nurse in question has inconsistencies in her post-care processes. As a result, healthcare workers and patients at Texas Presbyterian Hospital are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When atypical diseases make an appearance, it can’t be business as usual. Despite our sophisticated healthcare system, the U.S. in not bulletproof. And panicking has ensued. We’ve all sat next to that airline passenger who is hacking and moaning—no amount of hand sanitizer can protect you. Short of wearing a hazmat suit, what other precautions should we take?

On October 12, some New York to Los Angeles passengers learned the hard way. When a passenger became ill mid-flight, the first thought was Ebola. One of the busiest airports in the country determined the safest action was to hold the plane at a remote gate. Health officials boarded the plane and after extensive examination, it was determined she “just” had the flu and everyone was allowed to leave. I’m not sure who I feel sorrier for the gate agents and flight attendants or the passengers trapped in a plane thinking they’d been exposed to this horrible disease.

If there ever was a time for a refresher training on patient safety protocols and HIPAA privacy and security, it is now! In the meantime, I will keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have to travel by air.