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States Prepare for Seamless Exchange of Health Records after Disasters

July 12, 2013
by John DeGaspari
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10-state HIE programs have established infrastructure for secure exchange of health information

Four Gulf states have partnered with six states in the East and Midwest to help patients and providers access critical health information when they are unable to visit their regular doctors or hospitals. The initiative is part of an effort to help make sure their residents’ health information is available after a hurricane or other widespread disaster.

Working with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), health information exchange (HIE) programs in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia today announced their partnership to allow for the exchange of health information among providers caring for patients who are displaced from their homes.

All of the state HIE programs participating in the initiative currently have established at least one operational interstate connection and are working with other states including Arkansas and Mississippi.

According to the ONC announcement, the 10-state initiative is being made possible through information technology infrastructure provided through Direct, a tool that allows for the secure exchange of health information over the Internet.

“Through disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy and large tornadoes in Alabama and Joplin, Missouri, in 2011 and more recently in Moore, Oklahoma, we have learned the importance of protecting patients’ health records through electronic tools like health information exchanges,” said Farzad Mostashari, M.D., national coordinator for health IT in a prepared statement. “Patients are better off when states and health information exchange organizations work together to ensure that health information can follow patients when they need it the most.”

A guidebook, published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, can also help primary care clinicians connect their patients’ electronic health records to a local HIE hub and regional health information organizations.

The Southeast Regional Health IT and Health Information Exchange Collaboration (SERCH) is leading the collaborative effort. In 2012, SERCH completed an analysis of barriers to health information exchange and issued recommendations for developing HIE infrastructure to support disaster preparedness and response. In its final report, SERCH recommended a phased approach to use existing data sources such as health plans and state agencies to overcome barriers to HIE across states.

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