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Diaspora dispatches

A few blocks from the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi's Biloxi Regional Medical Center (BRMC) took a direct hit during Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, although the storm knocked out its communications link to its corporate offices in Naples, Fla., its primary IT systems were spared, allowing health care workers to promptly tend to patients pouring into the center during and after the storm.

Even so, hospital workers felt the loss of crucial transaction-processing functions, such as insurance verification, because of the downed circuits, even though the link was restored days later.

"Some of our pharmacy systems are located in our home offices as well, although we had our in-house pharmacy system up and running and we were able to dispense and track meds," said George Bickel, BRMC's director of information systems. "It didn't really impact the patients. It just impacted us, in that we had to do extra work trying to keep the paper trail straight." He is now looking for reliable backup, should a worst-case scenario materialize again.

Bickel's quest has been tempered, however, by his experiences directly after Katrina. "When the link went down, we tried getting satellite access," he said. "We had seen e-mails that said this could be done within 24 hours. A week later, the parts arrived."

Although Bickel acknowledged his frustration with the red tape involved in getting the satellite services, he is still interested in using the technology, along with wireless systems. "We still want to investigate some kind of satellite device that we can take out of the closet after the winds subside and put it on the roof or out near the road to provide us with a secondary Internet-based link."

"I'll be looking for something cost-justifiable that we can keep sitting around," Bickel added. "Katrina supposedly was a 500-year storm, but it could happen again next week."

-- Jennifer Jones

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