Health IT panel to study EHR use in disasters

The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned

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The American Health Information Community, the panel of government and private-sector executives seeking to accelerate deployment of electronic health records (EHRs), received a new task yesterday: using health information technology to improve the nation’s responses to a disaster.

Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told the commissioners he wants them to develop recommendations on how EHRs can be used in a disaster that leaves many people without their medical records and prescriptions for medication.

Leavitt did not provide details on how the commission would proceed.

He said the new task stemmed from the White House report on lessons learned from the Hurricane Katrina disaster in August 2005. “In coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and other homeland security partners, the Department of Health and Human Services should strengthen the federal government’s capability to provide public health and medical support during a crisis,” the report states. “This will require the improvement of command and control of public health resources, the development of deliberate plans, an additional investment in deployable operational resources, and an acceleration of the initiative to foster the widespread use of interoperable electronic health records systems.”

Representatives of the Southern Governors Association described their Gulf Coast Health Information Technology Task Force to the commission. State officials from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are working together to rebuild the health care delivery system and ensure it can respond to a catastrophe like Katrina.

The task force, which will include doctors, insurance companies, first responders and others, will investigate ways in which health records can be designed for mobility. Although there may be some overlap with the national effort, Leavitt announced yesterday, he said he wanted the Southern Governors Association effort to continue.

The community has been working since last fall on four areas in which Leavitt is hoping for short-term gains: biosurveillance technologies to provide early warning of epidemics and other health emergencies; consumer empowerment, including personal health records; use of IT in caring for people with chronic diseases; and EHRs.

He is pushing the commission’s four work groups to produce recommendations this year that can be implemented in 2007. The groups provided progress reports yesterday.

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