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10/26/2009
02:57 PM
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H1N1 A National Emergency: Bring On The E-Records!

President Obama has declared a national emergency in respect to H1N1. This gives hospitals more leeway in setting up emergency operations to respond to the rising swine flu pandemic. Wouldn't e-medical records systems come in handy now?

President Obama has declared a national emergency in respect to H1N1. This gives hospitals more leeway in setting up emergency operations to respond to the rising swine flu pandemic. Wouldn't e-medical records systems come in handy now?The heavy flow of patients arriving in ERs and doctor offices complaining of flu like symptoms --and the thousands (if not millions) more expected in the months to come--have public health officials worried about hospitals hitting their capacity for caring for the seriously ill.

According to the CDC, since April, there have been about 20,000 H1N1-related hospitalizations and 1,000 deaths. So, Obama's declaration of national emergency last week waives certain federal rules, making it easier for hospitals, among other things, to set up additional offsite emergency departments.

Wouldn't it be comforting if you could be assured that clinicians relocated to treat parents at these ad hoc emergency facilities have access to patients' medical records, such as information about chronic conditions like asthma that could make an individual at higher risk for serious respiratory complications? Or, how about patient allergies to antibiotics that treat bacterial infections that also often accompany serious cases of the flu, especially those with compromised immune systems?

Surely, there are hospitals with ED systems that allow doctors to access records of patients previously seen at the hospital. In some places, the exchange of health data in a region--even if it's just e-prescribing data--can already help guide doctors in treating patients that were never previously seen at the facility. But many clinicians who end up seeing suspected swine-flu patients in jerry-rigged emergency facilities will be dealing with scant information provided by the patient (if conscious) or by a worried, nervous (and sometimes clueless) loved one.

If all goes according to the high hopes that government and healthcare officials have for the adoption of health IT over the next few years related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's stimulus programs, then with any luck, the next national emergency will have healthcare providers better equipped to quickly access important information for safely and more effectively treating the sick.

That's a bit more comforting, isn't it?

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