South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday December 12, 2017
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July 2012 - Volume 9 - Issue 1

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Building the Health Information Exchange for Disaster Preparedness

South Florida is prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding which force people to leave their homes seeking safety. People fleeing a disaster often require medical care and no matter where patients present for care, they need to be treated. But while people move, their medical records do not.
 
The vulnerability of paper-based health record systems was clearly demonstrated in the aftermath of Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan in 2004 and Katrina and Rita in 2005, when over a million people had to be evacuated to safety. Coastal counties were seriously impacted by evacuees who needed shelter and medical assistance. Doctors were unable to obtain much-needed medical records and could not reconstruct care plans due to lack of information, which created major problems for doctors the people they were treating.
 
One of the most effective ways to prepare for medical emergencies after a natural disaster in South Florida is to enable health information exchange. This is a computer-based clinical communications network that will allow a doctor who is treating you to securely access your medical records from any other participant in the network, wherever your records are stored. Or, if you use personal health record software like Microsoft Health Vault, the health information exchange can send your medical records to you for safe keeping. The only limitations are having the technical connection and the willingness of physicians to participate in the health information exchange.
 
The technology is coming. The State of Florida was awarded $20.7 million in 2010 from the federal government to build the technical infrastructure for a statewide Florida Health Information Exchange, the FL HIE. At the moment only five health care facilities in the state are able to connect to the FL HIE. Two of these are in South Florida, Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County and Health Choice Network in Miami-Dade. These two represent the beginning of a network of networks that could span the whole of Southeast Florida in a web of health care connectivity. And once the statewide FL HIE is completed, doctors will be able to access your medical records anywhere you go in Florida.
 
Before the FL HIE can become a reality, though, health care providers have to decide to participate in the health information exchange. This is more difficult than one might imagine because it requires changing perceptions of competition and cooperation and choosing the benefit of having secure access to medical records over the cost of participating in the health information exchange.
 
When the next hurricane strikes and people are forced to leave their homes for someplace else in the state, will it be work the risk to their safety and well being to leave their paper medical records soaking wet? Or will the value of accessing secure, electronic records become apparent in the days following the disaster? This is what planning is for. This is why preparing for a natural disaster by building the health information exchange is so important to the health of all us in Florida.
Dr. Christopher B. Sullivan, Image Research, LLC, can be reached at (786) 759-1917 or cbsullivan@imageresearch.com.
 
References
Southeast Regional HIT-HIE Collaboration (SERCH), Final Report.
ONC State Health Policy Consortium Project: Health Information Exchange in Disaster Preparedness and Response
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