A week after Hurricane Sandy swept across the east coast, reports are coming out about the role that digital health applications played during and after the storm. for individuals and for hospitals.
During the storm itself, one of the top app downloads was the Red Cross Hurricane App, which combines a storm tracker with emergency functions like a flashlight and alarm. The app also features a first aid database, and a notification system for quickly and easily telling loved ones you’re safe. The day after the storm, TechCrunch reported that Apple’s AppStore’s top 3 downloaded apps — a slot normally dominated by games — were the Red Cross App, YouTube, and Flashlight.
MobiHealthNews reported on the growing popularity of Red Cross apps in September, but this storm was a high point for downloads.
A spokesperson for the Red Cross told MobiHealthNews that the average daily count for Red Cross apps in October was 369 downloads. The average number of downloads per day between October 25th and October 30th was about 66,000. The peak day for Red Cross app downloads was October 28th, the day before Sandy hit New York City, and Red Cross saw about 144,000 downloads for its apps that day alone.
In the wake of the storm, a number of other apps have been in use by relief efforts and by people whose homes are damaged or without power. In New Jersey, HomelessConnections, an app that existed before Sandy to help social workers connect the homeless to services like food, clothing, shelter, and even medical services, was repurposed to help storm refugees find services to help them. The app featured support for quickly adding new locations and was designed to function with limited data access, both of which made it ideal in post-hurricane conditions. FEMA provided an app similar to the Red Cross’s, which also provides maps to open shelters and Disaster Recovery Centers. Of course, apps to document insurance claims have also been popular.
For doctors, this storm demonstrated the value of electronic health records, as NYU’s Langone Medical Center had to evacuate when they lost power. Doctors were able to continue treating evacuated patients at other hospitals, because much of the health information that might have been lost was backed up in New York’s SHIN-NY health information exchange. On the other hand, most hospitals printed out paper records before the storm in case they lost their servers to flooding — which happened at two hospitals in Staten Island. This stands in sharp contrast to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, where millions of hospital records in New Orleans were lost.
A mobile tool that helps doctors and hospital staff stay in touch with patients’ families proved helpful during the frenzy of the storm. MDConnectME lets patients fill out a list of contacts that doctors can quickly and easily keep updated about the patient’s treatment and condition.