This is a letter that any person concerned about disaster situations can present to their physician. It addresses issues associated with the possible inadequacy of emergency medical response in situations such as the aftermath of a major storm or other disasters. Feel free to print it and present it to your family physician if you think it would be beneficial to have them better understand preparedness issues.
To my fellow physicians:
I am a Fellow of both the American College of Surgeons and the American College of OB/GYN, recently retired, and I am writing this letter in an effort to inform you about the importance of improving the level of medical preparedness in your patient population.
We live in uncertain times, and more and more people are becoming concerned about what would happen in the event of a major disaster. From tornadoes to wildfires to national emergencies, there are circumstances where medical personnel may be overwhelmed by the number of victimsrequiring medical aid. In these situations, many of your patients will be unable to reach you and may find themselves as the sole medical resource available to sick or injured members of their families.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs) were formed from many areas in the country and converged upon New Orleans. They were immediately overwhelmed by the number of victims requiring medical help. In such a scenario, it stands to reason that your patients would benefit from a concerted effort on your part to help them be prepared to deal with likely problems they would face.
In an era of high technology, we may have expectations that our resources will always be sufficient to meet our emergency needs. Recent history has proven otherwise, and it may be time for us, as physicians, to increase the amount of education we provide for our patients; in this way, they can function as assets to their family if you or emergency medical personnel are not available.
Few medical offices provide information regarding the types and quantities of medical supplies that are recommended for the average household. These are my suggestions: Consider your area’s likely needs for the disasters that might befall it, and print lists of items that you would advise your patients to have in their homes. As well, provide resources for classes that your patients can take so that they will have the medical education necessary to deal with basic health issues likely in these events. Direct them to sites recommended by the federal government for emergency preparedness, such as www.ready.gov; they will find free informational booklets that will help to increase their chances of surviving natural calamities and other disasters.
For your individual patients, especially those with chronic medical problems, you might consider providing the opportunity for them to keep a supply of needed medications by offering them an extra prescription to fill. In this manner, you can assure that your patients will have enough medicine to get them through situations which prevent them from contacting you in times of trouble. I’m not asking you to abandon your responsibility to them by throwing prescriptions at them; I am simply suggesting that they would benefit from having some extra supplies available to deal with unforeseen circumstances. Also, consider listing recommended over-the-counter medications that would be useful to have on hand.
Our purpose as physicians is to improve the health of our people while doing no harm. Many doctors dedicate their entire lives to this purpose, and we must work to preserve the well-being of our patients in bad times as well as good times. The worst nightmare of your patients is the inability to reach you in a major disaster; help them become better prepared to deal with medical emergencies with education, compassion, and understanding.
Thank you for all you do to keep your patients healthy, and for your time and attention in reading this letter.
Joseph Alton, M.D., F.A.C.S., F.A.C.O.G.
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