HIMSS project helps Gulf Coast medical practices rebuild

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Like the project’s name suggests, the HIMSS’ Katrina Phoenix project has been helping medical practices rise from the destruction brought on from Hurricane Katrina ever since the days immediately following the disaster. Many medical centers in the Gulf Coast region relied heavily on paper records which were lost in the storm.

Launched in September 2005, the project has had the purpose of re-establishing practices in the region by providing expertise for electronic health record adoption and drumming up financial support via donations and other sources so that the technology can be acquired and implemented.

The program includes practices across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, all three states that were substantially impacted by Katrina.

“The real value that HIMSS brings is to help identify the practices in need and triage them,” said David Collins, manager, Davies Awards Program, HIMSS.

This process involves working with quality improvement organizations (QIOs) in each respective state that do the groundwork on foot going from facility to facility. HIMSS adds support to this process through paperwork and other infrastructure, and also is able to reach out for financial assistance, EHR software licenses and other things, Collins said.

The HIMSS Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm, provides some grants to assist in both the Katrina Phoenix project and the Common Ground Health Clinic, a New Orleans health clinic that sprung up in the wake of Katrina which HIMSS has taken under its wing.

However, the biggest asset that HIMSS brings is physician mentors, said Collins, whose role is to manage the HIMSS Davies Awards Program. Many of the Davies winners are physicians volunteering their time on the Katrina-Phoenix project. These physicians have been recognized for their expertise in EHR implementation. For the physician practices that are being aided by Katrina Phoenix, Collins compared this to “having a professional athlete come and teach you how to play a new sport.”

The volunteers come down and train physicians at designated facilities on how to utilize EHRs. “It’s a whole different way of practicing medicine and changing your workflow from paper to electronic. There are a lot of bumps in the road, a lot of lessons learned, and these people are truly experts and early adopters,” Collins said. “These practices in the Gulf Coast who have the desire to do this are getting experienced mentorship they couldn’t get anywhere else, for free.”

Out of the nine total practices they are currently helping in the three states, two are actively running in Mississippi, one is up in Alabama, and a facility in New Orleans is also online. HIMSS has helped these facilities connect with donations, negotiate contacts, determine hardware needs and iron out workflow issues.

The five other practices in the program are in different stages of implementation. One of the facilities in Mississippi is a community health center that has 24 separate sites. All of the others are “one-doc-shops” with one site, or two at the most, he said.

It is expected that three of the five in development should be online in the next four months, and the other two hopefully by year’s end.

Related highlights at HIMSS:

  • Session: Katrina Phoenix: Access to Patient Information – From Soggy to Secure – Tuesday 9:45-10:45 a.m.;
  • Project partner Morehouse School of Medicine of Atlanta will be there discussing their involvement with the project. The school is an official hurricane recovery and response center and operating under a grant from the National Institute of Health has been able to assist the Katrina Phoenix project;
  • Each conference Keynote will highlight a short video regarding each of the four facilities currently operation as a result of the initiative’s support; and
  • A Katrina Phoenix fact sheet of information will be available at HIMSS Central during the event.