HHS Uses Electronic Health Records Systems To Help Hurricane Katrina Evacuees
HHS officials are using electronic health records systems to compile and monitor prescription and treatment histories for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said Monday, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports.
Leavitt said the agency is using electronic prescription drug records from retail pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers to compile a database containing evacuees' prescription drug histories. Evacuees who filled prescriptions at large retail pharmacy chains as much as 90 days before the hurricane should be able to access their prescription records through the database, which is still under development.
HHS also is using a pilot EHR program at some shelters, including the Astrodome in Houston, to track evacuees' medical care since the hurricane. At the Astrodome, health care providers can use the EHR system to communicate laboratory results to offsite facilities for analysis.
Copies of EHRs for 50,000 patients treated at the New Orleans Veterans Affairs Medical Center were airlifted to Houston, where they were accessible about four days after the hurricane. Elsewhere, providers are attempting to reconstruct patients' treatment histories from anecdotal accounts, the AP/Sun reports.
For example, Joseph Mirro, chief medical officer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., spoke with parents and oncologists to determine chemotherapy regiments for 80 children with cancer who had been evacuated from the Gulf Coast.
Leavitt stressed the benefits of EHRs in catastrophes such as natural disasters, saying, "There may not have been an experience that demonstrates, for me or the country, more powerfully the need for electronic health records ... than Katrina." He added that reassembling evacuees' health records "is not going to be a short-term problem" (Neergaard, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/13).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday reported on federal health officials' efforts to computerize the medical records of hurricane survivors and the need for a nationwide EHR system. According to NPR, although the federal government seeks to establish a nationwide EHR system within the next decade, it is currently "so expensive" that few physician offices -- including those "in Katrina's path" -- currently use EMRs, so evacuees must reconstruct their medical history "as best they can" (Montagne/Stamberg, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/13). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.