Protect your medical practice by preparing for catastrophes

June 1, 2011

Patricia K. Farris, M.D., never thought she'd experience a natural disaster that would wipe out her practice, a city and an entire infrastructure. Then came Hurricane Katrina. "You couldn't call a patient who had a melanoma. It was so beyond, beyond," says Dr. Farris, who practices in Metairie, La. After the 2005 storm, she says, "I was out of business for seven months."

Key Points

EDITOR'S NOTE: Disasters, natural or man-made, can befall a community with little or no warning. In this issue, we share some of the experiences of dermatologists who have lived through catastrophe - and their recommendations on how to put a plan in place to protect yourself and your business.

National report - Patricia K. Farris, M.D., never thought she'd experience a natural disaster that would wipe out her practice, a city and an entire infrastructure.

Then came Hurricane Katrina.

Roy G. Geronemus, M.D., was performing surgical procedures in his New York City dermatology office about three or four miles from the World Trade Center when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred.

"We had ... panic among the patients - particularly those who had family and friends" in the area, he says. "I remember doing Mohs surgery on a patient whose child was in a school next door to the World Trade Center. There he was with a large wound and, essentially, out of contact with his child."

Patients who had been close to the tragedy sought refuge in the medical office later that day, traumatized and covered with soot.

"They were searching for family members," Dr. Geronemus says. "It was awful."

The two dermatologists say they were forever changed by their experiences. And, they say, they learned a key lesson: Always be prepared.

Range is broad

Disasters can range from local or regional storms or events to widespread natural catastrophes, or to terrorist attacks.

Several large-scale disasters have occurred in recent years in the United States and elsewhere, including Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the devastating March 2011 earthquake in Japan, which experts call a complex emergency. That quake generated a tsunami that left at least 26,000 people dead or missing and severely damaged nuclear power facilities.

And in April, the largest recorded outbreak of tornadoes in U.S. history rampaged through several Southern states, leveling large sections of communities and killing more than 300 people.

The first need, he says, is for individual preparedness. "The second is to be sure your family is prepared. ... And, finally, we very strongly believe that every healthcare individual has a role in responding," he says.