Now that we have the first case of a patient being diagnosed with Ebola in the US, it’s worth asking whether emergency alerts can play a role in helping deal with this disease, either in Dallas, where this particular patient is located, or in some other city, which could have another case.
Dallas is special because one of the two Americans flown back from Liberia with Ebola was from Dallas, so news reports suggest that there’s already a high awareness of the disease in that area.
It seem to us that emergency alerts can potentially help in a few different ways:
- Calm fears with education. An epidemic of Ebola is highly unlikely in the US. But that doesn’t mean the public understands this. One poll found that one in four Americans are worried they or a family member will get the disease. Alerts could help direct folks to information that could allay their concerns.
- Direct citizens to health care. Getting someone with Ebola into the health care system is critical in stopping its spread. This is one of the reasons the disease has gotten out of hand in African countries, where people have avoided health care workers. Telling folks to report their symptoms – especially if they’ve been exposed to someone who’s been to Africa – might be helpful in getting them into the health care system sooner.
- Mobilize public safety and health care workers. One of the surprising things about the Dallas case is that the patient went to the hospital and was sent home and was not then diagnosed until going back to the hospital a few days later. It turns out that the nurse asked the patient, but somehow the information didn’t get to whoever made the discharge decision. Asking someone with a fever if they’ve been to Africa within the past month or exposed to someone who has seems like a pretty simple question and one that should focus attention well. Reminding staff to pass the information makes sense. And since the incidence level of the disease is going to be very small, reminders using the alert system could be helpful in making sure that question gets asked and the information shared. Many hospitals use systems such as Hyper-Reach and many public safety agencies use their alert systems both for staff communication as well as public alerts.
There may be other roles that emergency alert systems like Hyper-Reach can play. If you have any thoughts, feel free to suggest them. We’d love to hear from you.