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Katrina Lessons Should Help Planning Health-Data Access In Other Crises: Report

Last year's creation of a secure Web site to allow Katrina victims to receive medical care and prescriptions continues to have applicability in this new hurricane season, a new report says.

As the nation prepares for this new hurricane season, government and private sector leaders should heed lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina on how to help health care providers access victims' medical information.

This is according to a new report released this week by the Markle Foundation, a nonprofit organization that studies how technology can address critical public needs.

Within three weeks after Katrina devastated the Gulf region last fall, a group of experts from private and public health organizations and technology companies created a secure Web portal. The site allowed health providers to securely access online pharmacy records from the previous 90 days for approximately 1 million evacuees.

The KatrinaHealth.org site also helped many patients resume taking life-saving medications and helped doctors avoid prescribing drugs that might interfere with patients' other treatments.

The development and deployment of the KatrinaHealth.org site provides lessons that government, private sector, and health care leaders can use in preparing for future disasters, including the new hurricane season, says the Markle report.

Among the report's many recommendations:

- Electronic health information systems should be based on simple, open Web standards so that data is accessible to authorized users in a variety of different formats.

- Officials need to agree on processes to authenticate the identities of doctors, pharmacists, and patients that use the Web site. Private health information must be quickly and securely accessed during ongoing treatment.

- Officials should examine state and federal privacy regulations--including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act--to ensure that they don't hinder delivery of medical care to displaced patients post-disaster.

In developing the KatrinaHealth.org site, a relational database was created by extracting data on a defined dataset of patients in the Katrina-affected areas. This is according to Rick Ratliff, SureScripts chief operating officer, who worked on the site's development.

Sources of the data included SureScripts, which manages an e-prescription network that includes large retail pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens; Gold Standard, which manages Medicaid information for Mississippi and other states; RxHub, which handles data for several large pharmacy benefits managers; and the Veterans Administration.

The database allowed authorized physicians and other health care providers treating evacuees to access their medication records, such as prescriptions that were filled over the last 90 days, via the secure site.

Since then, SureScripts has created a new service that allows authorized doctors and other care providers who use e-prescription software in their offices to securely access patients' medication histories via the SureScripts network.

In an emergency or crisis, data can also be accessed via a secure portal by doctors who don't regularly use e-prescriptions services from SureScripts, Ratliff says.

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