Practice Management

Hospital disaster preparation confronts COVID


Time to debrief

Dr. Frank recommends debriefing on the hospital’s and the hospitalist group’s experience with COVID. “Look at the biggest challenges your group faced. Was it staffing, or time off, or the need for day care? Was it burnout, lack of knowledge, lack of [personal protective equipment]?” Each hospital could use its own COVID experience to work on identifying the challenges and the problems, she said. “I’d encourage each department and division to do this exercise individually. Then come together to find common ground with other departments in the hospital.”

This debriefing exercise isn’t just for doctors – it’s also for nurses, environmental services, security, and many other departments, she said. “COVID showed us how crisis response is a group effort. What will bring us together is to learn the challenges each of us faced. It was amazing to see hospitalists doing what they do best.” Post pandemic, hospitalists should also consider getting involved in research and publications, in order to share their lessons.

“One of the things we learned is that hospitalists are very versatile,” Dr. Frank added. But it’s also good for the group to have members specialize, for example, in biocontainment. “We are experts in discharging patients, in patient flow and operations, in coordinating complex medical care. So we would naturally take the lead in, for example, opening a geographic unit or collaborating with other specialists to create innovative models. That’s our job. It’s essential that we’re involved well in advance.”

COVID may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but there will be other disasters to come, she said. “If your hospital doesn’t have a disaster plan for hospitalists, get involved in establishing one. Each hospitalist group should have its own response plan. Talk to your peers at other hospitals, and get involved at the institutional level. I’m happy to share our plan; just contact me.” Readers can contact Dr. Frank at [email protected]


1. Persoff J et al. The role of hospital medicine in emergency preparedness: A framework for hospitalist leadership in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. J Hosp Med. 2018 Oct;13(10):713-7. doi: 10.12788/jhm.3073.

2. Persoff J et al. Expanding the hospital incident command system with a physician-centric role during a pandemic: The role of the physician clinical support supervisor. J Hosp Adm. 2020;9(3):7-10. doi: 10.5430/jha.v9n3p7.

3. Bowden K et al. Harnessing the power of hospitalists in operational disaster planning: COVID-19. J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Sep;35(9):273-7. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-05952-6.

4. Orsini E et al. Lessons on outbreak preparedness from the Cleveland Clinic. Chest. 2020;158(5):2090-6. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2020.06.009.


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