Drug data for Katrina evacuees now online

Prescription pill data for evacuees fleeing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is now available on a single Web site.

The site, www.katrinahealth.org, which became available nationwide today, is for health care professionals caring for people displaced by the natural disaster. A coalition of more than 150 organizations, including the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Markle Foundation, first made the tool available to physicians along the Gulf Coast.

“Many people didn’t bring their medication with them, don’t know what medications they’re on, and that information is now available,” said Dr. Fred Cerise, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, in a press conference today.

The need for electronic access to medical information has only intensified “as these evacuees have spread across the country far from their home, from their regular doctor, without any medical records at all,” said Dr. J. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association (AMA).

The site’s organizers are now in discussion with Texas state officials about expanding the project’s scope to include those who may be affected by Hurricane Rita, a category 4 storm headed toward the state.

The project is a good indicator of “what we can we do when we cut past all the barriers and just focus on the results,” said Dr. David Brailer, the national health IT coordinator. “I’m going to be using of this is our broader efforts to remind everyone that we can do more, faster.” Katrinahealth.org could become a model for addressing the needs of a large population of evacuees, Brailer said.

The Web site operates mainly as a hub that can query standardized access points within multiple databases of stored prescription information from private and government prescription medicine providers. Users are authenticated by matching their names to databases maintained by the AMA, the National Community Pharmacists Association and SureScripts, an electronic prescription association of chain pharmacies.

Approximately half of the country’s pharmacies have access to the Web site, which offers access to 1 million patient records and 7 million total prescriptions, said Kevin Hutchinson, chief executive officer of SureScripts.

Privacy and state law concerns caused organizers to prevent site users from finding psychiatric, substance abuse or AIDS-related prescriptions, said Dr. Carol Diamond, managing director of the Markle Foundation’s health care program. Although “we know that information can be critical to the care of the patient, we felt that in this period of time we had to take that path,” she said.

In addition, site users can access only one record at a time, and no data is cached on user computers. Users are also monitored and can be kicked off for inappropriate use.

The Web site was relatively easy to create because the prescription industry has already worked for a number of years to create perception information transmission standards, said David McLean, CEO of RxHub.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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