Health Care: Medical Records in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

Many Hurricane Katrina evacuees lost their paper medical records in the storm. Consequently, they have no documentation of their medication histories and neither do their doctors and pharmacies. To help the hurricane’s victims get appropriate medical treatment, the federal government, with help from other public and private groups, has established a website where health-care workers can retrieve prescription histories and related information on evacuees.

The site, www.katrinahealth.org, was assembled by networking existing databases from retail pharmacies and government health programs such as Medicaid. David Brailer, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology who is in charge of federal efforts to promote the adoption of electronic medical records systems, says the experience shows how quickly health-care information can be gathered electronically on a national level.

To protect patient privacy, the American Medical Association, the National Community Pharmacists Association and health-care IT company SureScripts first validates the identities of those trying to access the site. Caregivers can then log on to the site with a user name and password and enter a patient’s name, date of birth, pre-Katrina address and gender to access his medication history.

Emily Stewart, health policy analyst for the Health Privacy Project, agrees that it’s crucial to get evacuees the care they need. But she also thinks they should be allowed to opt out of the network if they want, and that the system should be dismantled once the need for it passes.

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