Planning for the Unthinkable: AHIMA Introduces Disaster Planning and Recovery Toolkit

In recent years, the United States has seen its share of disasters, both natural and man-made. After experiencing these tragedies, imagining a large-scale disaster and mass-casualty event is unfortunately no longer difficult. As a result, disaster planning and preparedness have come to the forefront of HIM and healthcare at large.

AHIMA’s new “Disaster Planning and Recovery Toolkit” incorporates key HIM principles such as records management, disclosure of protected health information, retention, and confidentiality for paper and electronic records, both of which are at risk in disaster situations. The toolkit was developed by volunteers to provide guidance in disaster planning, roles and responsibilities and communications relating to operations, and recovery phase. The toolkit also includes sample contingency plans, an immediate and short-term concerns checklist, and a sample emergency privilege application and release form.

The toolkit is free to AHIMA members. To access the full toolkit, available as a digital download, visit AHIMA’s HIM Body of Knowledge.

The following excerpt offers tips on how patients displaced by a disaster can recover their health information.

For individuals who are attempting to recover their health information, AHIMA suggests the following actions:

  • If you have access to the Internet, take advantage of the free resources at, a site that offers guidance to understanding and managing one’s personal health information.
  • If you are active duty military and have a HealtheVet account, explore the VA’s Blue Button Initiative to obtain your records:
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer the “Keep It With You: Personal Medical Information Form,” a voluntary, temporary record that lists medical care and other health information for people who need care during disasters. If you do not have access to the Internet, call your local health department for assistance.
  • Call your healthcare providers to see if they are in business or have left contact information. If you can contact them, find out the status of your medical records. Ask them if they have kept backup copies of medical records, lab reports, x-rays, pharmacy, or bills that would be helpful to you.
  • Contact your insurance company. It is very likely they can provide documents used in billing (for example, the explanation of benefits statement) to help rebuild your medical record. If you use Medicare, contact the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services online or call 1-800-MEDICARE.
  • Contact your pharmacy. Many national chains keep records of your prescriptions and can verify names and dosages for you and your healthcare provider, even if you are in a different location.
  • Contact your state Department of Health for information contained in Medicaid program information, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program information, or registries such as communicable disease, immunizations, and birth certificates. Telephone numbers for state departments of health can be found here through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
  • Contact any healthcare providers you have seen on a referral basis (such as home healthcare providers, specialists, surgeons, etc.). They should have information sent to them by your referring healthcare provider.


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