Using Technology in Mass Disasters: Technology Offers EAPs the Opportunity to Provide Employer and Employee Clients with More Service Options during Mass Disasters and Do So Faster, Cheaper, and More Efficiently

Article excerpt

EAPs, healthcare providers, and health insurance companies increasingly are using information technology applications to address a wide range of concerns facing their client populations. For example, when addressing health and wellness issues, EAPs and healthcare providers are using Websites and e-mail campaigns to help educate employees about topics such as fitness, elder care, and preventive medicine. When addressing the needs of people who have already received a diagnosis of a physical health problem or a mental health disorder, healthcare providers and EAPs are using technologies such as online cognitive behavioral therapy programs to try to help people recover and return to productive functioning.

Within the specific domain of critical incident response (CIR), EAPs and healthcare providers are assisting people who have experienced an abnormal event that can overwhelm their normal coping mechanisms. The World Health Organization recommends use of a phase-sensitive, multi-component response for populations exposed to extreme stressors. Technology can help make that happen.

Historically, critical incident response has depended upon application of a single-intervention, one-size-fits-all approach. An evidence-informed approach posits that people and organizations get better in a variety of ways, and care providers such as EAPs need to be sensitive to where their clients are in that process and offer them options. Technology allows EAPs to offer more options, no matter where clients may be in the recovery process.


Information technology offers many advantages to EAPs involved in critical incident response. First, it enables them to provide services more efficiently and cost-effectively than traditional methods allow. It also offers a level of safety that's missing in face-to-face care settings. For example, in the event of a pandemic flu threat, an EAP will not want to send out counselors to meet with groups of employees, because that approach risks infecting more people. Using technology can allow an EAP to provide services more safely in these circumstances.

Providing technology-driven options also provides an increased sense of psychological safety for some service recipients. Whereas many people will wish to interact in face-to-face groups and private conversations, some will feel safer via virtual communication. The last thing a CIR professional should do is further strip defenses from someone who just experienced a frightening event.

Another advantage to technology is that, as mental health and employee assistance professionals have always understood, it is important to communicate within the language of the recipient. Information technology really is the language of Generation Xers and especially the Millenials. They are more likely to use technology both professionally and personally. As new generations enter the workforce, it is important for EA professionals to use the language and media with which service recipients are most comfortable.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to using technology is that it allows EAPs to give their clients access to a broader matrix of care options. Not everyone recovers from crises or problems in the same way. We tend to assume that seeing a therapist face to face is natural for everyone, but it is actually quite intrusive, time-consuming, and foreign for most people. It's also expensive.

Not every person needs to be face to face with a care provider or hear a provider's voice to recover. Some people might have disabilities that make it difficult to access care, or they may want to avoid the stigma associated with seeing a counselor. Even if they do want face-to-face care, they may find it difficult to get an appointment at a convenient time.

By incorporating technology into your EAR you are saying to your clients that they have a lot of different ways to access care. They absolutely have the right to see an EA professional one on one--technology doesn't take away that option. …