A partnership involving four Gulf Coast states and six states in the East and Midwest will help patients and providers access health information in the event of a hurricane or other widespread disaster, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced on July 11.
The project involves collaboration between HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the health information exchange (HIE) programs in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
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. The 10-state initiative is being made possible through information technology infrastructure provided through Direct, a tool developed by an ONC-led collaboration 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, MD, 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 guide, Regional Health e-Decisions: A Guide to Connect Health Information Exchange in Primary Care, is available here.
The Southeast Regional Health IT and Health Information Exchange Collaboration (SERCH) is leading the collaborative effort. SERCH was funded through ONC’s State Health Policy Consortium and its members include Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Since SERCH began in April 2010, similar collaborations, using a variety of methods, have helped to resolve cross-border barriers toward facilitating the multi-state exchange of health information, according to ONC.
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.
“The SERCH effort will enable healthcare providers to contact a patient’s health plans and available healthcare providers for information about the patient’s medical history when it is most needed,” said Nicole Lurie, MD, assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response, in a news release describing the collaboration. “But patients can help protect their own information and that of their children by saving it electronically.”
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