Leavitt: Katrina demonstrates need for e-health records

Outdated hospital bed system hampers Katrina relief effort

The majority of the one million people displaced by Hurricane Katrina have no medical records, making it difficult for clinicians working in disaster medical centers to treat them, Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told the eHealth Initiative conference today.

“If there was ever a case for [electronic health records], this disaster underscores the need,” Leavitt said.

Medical personnel working at makeshift hospitals in the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast and at facilities in cities caring for Katrina refugees are handicapped by the lack of medical records, including medications prescribed to former Gulf Coast residents now scattered at shelters nationwide, Leavitt said.

With paper records destroyed or unavailable, Leavitt said doctors have no idea what drugs Katrina refugees are taking.

Leavitt said that in one instance, a patient he visited earlier this week who left home with a variety of pills could not help clinicians come up with a match for those prescriptions from the pills. That’s because extreme heat in the New Orleans Superdome, which housed 25,000 refugees for five days, had fused the drugs together, he said.

Although some medical experts have warned of catastrophic medical events following Katrina, such as an outbreak of West Nile Virus, Dr. Frederick Cerise, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said he was more concerned about refuges with chronic medical conditions such as cancer not getting the treatment they need because of a lack of medical records.

Cerise, who spoke to the conference via speakerphone from his office in Baton Rouge, La., said he is working with members of the eHealth Initiative, insurers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Dr. David Brailer, national coordinator for health information technology at HHS, to electronically re-create patient records.

For example, payment information held by insurers and CMS could help zero in on prescribed medications and lab tests ordered, though not the results of those tests, Cerise said.

Francois de Brantes, the health care initiatives program leader for General Electric’s Corporate Health Care and Medical Services, said the difference between electronic and paper health records after Katrina was best illustrated by the time it took to transfer records for patients in Veterans Affairs Department hospitals in the Gulf Coast compared with the records of patients in private hospitals.

It took the VA about 100 hours to transfer electronic health records for its all patients in the South, while it will take thousands of hours for the private sector to reconstitute paper medical records, de Brantes said.


  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.