HHS to give Gulf states a shot of health IT

The Department of Health and Human Services will spend about $3.7 million to encourage the use of electronic health records (EHRs) in the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

As doctors resume their medical practices and hospitals reopen their doors, HHS hopes they will consider keeping patient records on computers rather than in filing cabinets. To make that choice easier, HHS has entered into agreements with two organizations in the region:

  • The Southern Governors’ Association, which will host a Gulf Coast health information technology task force to plan for a digital health recovery, according to an HHS announcement.
  • The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, which will develop EHR and health information exchange prototypes that other organizations in the region could replicate.
  • Dr. David Brailer, national health IT coordinator, said HHS is “trying to play the role of a convener” of one or more regional health information organizations.

    Brailer said HHS would not develop such organizations in the Gulf Coast area nor pay all the bills for developing them, but he wanted to give doctors, hospitals and other health care providers the option of using EHRs going forward.

    He said the Gulf Coast could become “a showplace for what health IT is all about.”

    In announcing the initiative, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that EHRs in the Katrina-stricken areas were much more likely to have survived the August storm than paper records were.

    Brailer said the $3.7 million was left over after his office awarded its contracts for National Health Information Network prototypes and other elements of the national health IT program. The Katrina-related agreements mark the end of the start-up phase of the office’s work, he said, and it will now focus on implementing the contracts and agreements awarded in the past two months.

    Forming the Gulf Coast task force and getting it going will take a couple of months, Brailer said.

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