Expecting the Unexpected: Lessons Learned and the Value of Being Prepared

Health authorities are learning more about the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) with each passing day. Even with the growth in new cases, it is encouraging that the virus is not as serious as originally anticipated. As we continue to monitor the situation, it brings up a chance to reflect back on what has happened, and prepare for the future. 

Crisis situations, such as a pandemic, provide opportunities to reinforce what you were doing, or completely change what you were doing prior to an incident. 

There are two brief lessons I think we all can learn from this experience. As healthcare providers, the first thing is we need to always be conscious of illness. We need to make sure that we not only protect our patients, but we protect ourselves. It is important to ask the right questions to ascertain the health of patients (and ourselves) before providing care. Certainly, as healthcare providers, we need to make sure we do not pass along any infectious disease to patients. All the protocols that were recommended during the H1N1 outbreak are protocols that should be followed every day, whether we are in the flu season or not. 

The second lesson is about the value of being prepared for emergencies, whether it is a flu outbreak, earthquake or other natural disaster. We have a lot to learn from the people in New Orleans, and especially the dental school there, following hurricane Katrina. We are fortunate to have Dr. Eric Hoyland, the former dean of the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, spending some time at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry this fall. He will be working with our team as we review our contingency plans related to natural disasters. 

Each of us also needs to be prepared individually. One important thing for all of us, including our school-wide community, is to have a process for effective communication. By effective, it means it must be timely and accurate. 

There can be a lot of rumors and misunderstandings during times of crisis. As a result of the recent global awareness around NHN1, we have reviewed and shored up our processes to ensure effective communication among the School of Dentistry family.

I have appointed a task force who will be responsible for reviewing our emergency preparedness, including how we communicate. Please stay tuned for more information about this initiative in the coming weeks. This team is also able to rapidly convene to discuss any particular issue as needed.

The bottom line is that we always need to be prepared. In doing so, it relieves a lot of the stress and anxiety if issues such as the flu outbreak arise again.