HHS' aids hurricane victims needing to reconstruct medical records

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Medical professionals this week began using a new online federal database of prescriptions drug record to assist individuals affected by Katrina to reconstruct their medical records, the Washington Post has reported.

The information the database has been built from was given to them by retail pharmacies such as CVS, Rite Aid, Albertson, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart with other major chains planning on participating in the near future. To gather more data, officials say plans are underway to gather data from pharmacy benefit managers, labs, the Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities, and the Medicaid programs located in both Mississippi and Louisiana.
   
The database was constructed rather quickly (in 10 days), but necessity demanded speed and it now includes data for more than 800,000 people within 150 areas (identified by zip code). National Coordinator for Health Information Technology David Brailer, MD, PhD, has overseen the development of the database.
   
In an effort to enable communication of essential medical data, federal officials have said they will not enforce a requirement for companies and organizations to reach a formal agreement on data sharing. In this emergency, the government has concluded that a verbal agreement between organizations will suffice.
   
Initially, Brailer has indicated, the federal government had planned to stop using the database once the hurricane recovery is complete, yet now those involved in its construction are looking for ways to extend its application beyond the initial recovery.
   
Last week the lack of electronic health records for most patients living in the heavily affected area in and around New Orleans was a hot topic of discussion at the eHealth Initiative conference. The hurricane has left at least 1 million people without their medical histories. This was the main thrust of comments made by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Mike Leavitt at the conference.
   
Some of the worst news is for those with prescriptions, as medical personal have no way of knowing what drugs the displaced residents are taking.
   
Beyond the possible illness brought on by exposure to the flood waters that are reported to be toxic, and other possible health threats, Frederick Cerise, MD, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals who also spoke to the conference, said that he believes the biggest risk is for people with chronic conditions that have no records, and therefore no way to confirm the treatments they need. It is hoped that the federal prescription drug database will be a huge boost to recovery efforts.
   
The HHS has launched a number of other online efforts to try to assist victims of Katrina, one is by providing a way for healthcare professionals and relief personnel to volunteer in the relief effort. Information is available here: https://volunteer.ccrf.hhs.gov/. Additionally, a full array of efforts coordinated by the Department is listed here: http://www.hhs.gov/katrina/index.html.