KatrinaHealth.org to provide evacuees' electronic drug data

A public-private ad hoc group has launched a secure online service for authorized health professionals to gain electronic access to prescription medication records for Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

KatrinaHealth.org will give a single point of access to authorized health professionals and pharmacies to the Hurricane Relief Prescription Network, which contains evacuees' medication and dosage information in order to renew prescriptions, prescribe new medications and coordinate care. This information will be accessible to physicians treating evacuees from anywhere in the country.

David Brailer, the national coordinator for health IT in the Health and Human Services Department, brought together the effort to create KatrinaHealth.org and make it available quickly to health care professionals. Within two weeks, physicians in shelters began testing the system.

A broad group of private companies, public agencies and national organizations compiled and made accessible the medical data through the Web site. The group includes medical software companies, pharmacy benefits managers and pharmacy chains, as well as local, state and federal agencies and a national foundation.

'We focused on [prescription data] because it was low-hanging fruit with very high value in a short-term emergency. It was not intended to be a long-term project or mechanism that would go forward, unless an after-action analysis concludes that we have something valuable here,' Brailer told reporters in a teleconference. 'But it indicates what we can do when we cut past the barriers to focus on results,' he said.

The Web site is a portal to a network of database holders. It harmonizes the way data is accessed through the front end provided by Medicaid contractor Gold Standard Multimedia of Tampa, Fla., which allows for a common and tight level of security for physician user authentication and strict criteria to search for a patient, he said. A physician cannot search for any given person with a specific last name in the database, but instead must know specific facts about the patient.

'This syndication is very much in the spirit of interoperability and of providing portable, seamless data,' Brailer said. The database does not live in a single space. 'A lot of workarounds were probably used to put this together quickly instead of a long-term architecture, but it is consistent with principles we've laid out and applicable to all the laws,' he said.

The organizations involved in KatrinaHealth.org are continuing to develop new features for the site, including one that would allow patients to authorize access to sensitive personal information. Brailer said he has also begun talks with Texas health officials about a similar effort to connect data to the network in anticipation of Hurricane Rita, which is set to make landfall in that state early Saturday. A decision will be made over the next two days, he added.

'This tool is known in federal government now and officials in disaster planning are aware of this,' Brailer said.

The data and prescription information of Katrina evacuees have been made available from a variety of government and commercial sources, some of which have been aggregated. Sources include electronic databases from commercial pharmacies, government health insurance programs such as Medicaid, and private insurers, and pharmacy benefits managers in the states affected by the storm.

In some cases where there was a mechanism in place, data did not need to be moved. In other cases, data was moved into the Gold Standard database, said Carol Diamond, managing director of the health care program at the Markle Foundation.

More than 150 organizations have participated in the planning, testing and launching of the site. Key data and resources were contributed by the American Medical Association, Gold Standard, the Markle Foundation, RxHub of St. Paul, Minn., which enables connectivity and medication data exchange between pharmacy benefits providers and caregivers, SureScripts of Alexandria, Va., a network provider of electronic prescribing services, and the Louisiana and Mississippi departments of Health.

The AMA will provide physician credentialing and authentication services, validating the identity of health care providers'a key step in ensuring patient confidentiality and security.

For independent pharmacies, the National Community Pharmacists Association will authenticate and provide access, and for independent pharmacy owners, SureScripts will provide these services for chain pharmacies on behalf of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. More than 25,000 chain and community pharmacies around the country now are involved, said SureScripts CEO Kevin Hutchinson. Prescription drug retailers, including Albertsons, Walgreens, CVS, WalMart and Target, have created over 1 million records from 150 ZIP codes from the affected areas, he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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