The official verdict of the 2012 NPR assessment of the nation's "Public Health and Medical Services" capabilities is encouraging: Headed in the right direction, numerous milestones already passed, and overall progress more than satisfactory. However, major concerns still exist in an era of reduced federal funding and additional cutbacks in the foreseeable future.
During a medical emergency, navigating through large crowds requires more than just lights and sirens. By strategically placing resources, understanding the type of crowd, and preparing for all-hazards events, medical teams will be better equipped to rapidly respond as needs arise.
When a major tornado touches down - as happened one year ago in Joplin, Missouri - immediate evacuation of schools, hospitals, and other heavily populated buildings becomes mandatory. In addition to advance planning, risk assessments, extensive training, and mutual-aid partnerships, the National Capital Region took a giant step forward with the formation of a Coalition Partnership to cope with even Titanic-sized emergencies.
Thanks to the increased focus on homeland security in recent years, most Americans now understand the need to "triage" victims of a mass-casualty incident. Less understood is the triage approach as it applies to taking patients from an incident site to a healthcare facility: (a) immediate transport, with medical care en route; (b) less urgent transport, with minimal medical care needed en route; and (c) non-urgent transport, emergency vehicles not necessary.
A "big-screen" presentation, an all-star panel discussion, the Joplin tornado, preparedness gains - and the many gaps that still remain - were among the major highlights of the 2012 Public Health Preparedness Summit in Anaheim. Numerous workshops and town hall meetings were also on the hugely important schedule. Plan early to attend the 2013 Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.
Infectious diseases such as influenza are invisible, fast-moving, and often extremely lethal. The best and sometimes only way to kill them is to detect them early, stop them before they start to spread, isolate them at the first sign of an outbreak, and have at hand the trained medical professionals, the medicines, and the healthcare facilities needed to treat the first victims before the infection spreads.
No matter what the Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of the healthcare reform act, U.S. hospitals must prepare now for major changes in their planning, everyday operations, and both budgetary and personnel resources. Many of those changes may be costly. Most will be time-consuming and/or difficult to implement. But in the long term almost all will benefit - the hospitals themselves, their medical staff, and -most important of all - their patients.
Infected salad bars and the "improved" technological capabilities of modern-day terrorist groups have combined to make U.S. responders, and the American people, much more cautious about what they eat. Fortunately, that heightened awareness has led to a much closer scrutiny of restaurants, super markets, food-processing plants, and the super-rich diet creations to come.
The federal funding streams that improved U.S. preparedness capabilities, at all levels of government, so significantly in the first decade after the 9/11 attacks have already declined, and additional reductions are just over the horizon. But a lack of funds can be overcome, at least in part, by careful planning, increased cooperation, improved training, and a more imaginative and continuing all-hands effort by all of the professional preparedness communities directly involved.
Actions have consequences - not all of which are intended, or desired. Some military actions, for example, are intended to intimidate another nation - but instead lead to an outright war. The same is true in the fields of medicine and biological research that, while expanding the range of knowledge about a lethal and previously unknown disease, might also open the door to a new pandemic.