Federal EHR Database Allows Access to Prescription Records of Hurricane Evacuees
Medical personnel who have treated Hurricane Katrina evacuees in eight shelters on Tuesday began to use an online federal database of prescription drug records provided by retail pharmacies, the Washington Post reports. The database, in development for about 10 days, includes prescription information for more than 800,000 individuals located in 150 ZIP codes affected by the hurricane.
The database includes prescription drug records from CVS, Rite Aid, Albertsons, Walgreen and Wal-Mart, with records from Winn-Dixie, Kmart and Target expected in the near future. Federal officials also hope to add to the database electronic health records from pharmacy benefit managers, laboratories, Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities, and the Mississippi and Louisiana Medicaid programs.
According to the Post, the case marks the first in which the federal government has used private health records from retailers to compile an electronic database. Although patient consent is not required when health records are shared for medical purposes, companies and organizations that possess such records must reach formal agreements before they can share the information with each other. However, federal officials said that they would not enforce the formal agreement requirement in this case, provided that the companies and organizations reach verbal agreements to use the health records to help hurricane evacuees.
According to National Coordinator for Health Information Technology David Brailer, who has overseen the development of the database, only medical personnel at hurricane shelters and hospitals that treat hurricane evacuees will have access to the health records. Brailer said, "We've been extremely cautious."
Sue Blevins, founder of the Institute for Health Freedom, said that she supports the database in this case but added that "many things are done during a crisis that society normally would not accept."
The database currently allows medical personnel to access the health records of hurricane evacuees, but they cannot add new information. Brailer said that the federal government had planned to discontinue the database after hurricane relief efforts are complete.
However, others involved with the database "already are discussing ways to enhance the system and create personal health records for those who might need to move frequently over the next several months," the Post reports. Ray Fowler, director of a hurricane relief operation in Dallas, said, "We're already preparing for a second wave of victims who have been in hotels but the money is running out" (Krim, Washington Post, 9/14).
In related news, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Tuesday named the 16 members of a federally commissioned advisory committee that will make recommendations to him on the development of national EHR network. The committee includes CMS Administrator Mark McClellan and CDC Director Julie Gerberding, as well as representatives from the health care industry and a number of insurance and information technology companies (CQ HealthBeat, 9/13).
However, "none is from a recognized privacy organization," the Post reports (Washington Post, 9/14). Leavitt said in a press release that committee members "represent key interests and have the broad support of their peers." The committee will focus on interoperability among EHR systems, as well as other "areas of critical need," CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 9/13).