States Prepare for Seamless Exchange of Health Records after Disasters

RTI International supported consortium effort by providing subject matter expertise

stethoscope and computer keyboard

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK— As part of an effort to help make sure their residents’ health information is available after a hurricane or other wide-spread disaster, four Gulf states have partnered with six states in the East and Midwest to help patients and providers access critical health information when they are unable to visit their regular doctors or hospitals.

RTI International supported the Southeast Regional Health IT and Health Information Exchange Collaboration (SERCH) consortium effort by providing subject matter expertise, project and meeting management, and support for documentation and the dissemination of the consortium’s findings. RTI also expanded the project’s scope beyond its initial health IT focus by engaging with emergency preparedness experts.

Working with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), health information exchange programs in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia recently announced their partnership to allow for the exchange of health information among providers caring for patients who are displaced from their homes.

All of the state health information exchange programs participating in the initiative currently have established at least one operational interstate connection and are working with other states including Arkansas and Mississippi.

The 10-state initiative is being made possible through information technology infrastructure provided through Direct. Direct is a tool developed by an ONC-led collaboration with broad health information technology industry participation that allows for the secure exchange of health information over the Internet.

“Through disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy and large tornadoes in Alabama and Joplin, Missouri, in 2011 and more recently in Moore, Oklahoma, we have learned the importance of protecting patients’ health records through electronic tools like health information exchanges,” said Farzad Mostashari, M.D., national coordinator for health IT. “Patients are better off when states and health information exchange organizations work together to ensure that health information can follow patients when they need it the most.”

A guidebook, published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, can also help primary care clinicians connect their patients’ electronic health records to a local health information exchange hub and regional health information organizations. The guide, Regional Health e-Decisions: A Guide to Connect Health Information Exchange in Primary care, is available online.

SERCH was funded through ONC’s State Health Policy Consortium and its members include Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Since SERCH began in April 2010, similar collaborations, using a variety of methods, have helped to resolve cross-border barriers toward facilitating the multi-state exchange of health information.

In 2012, SERCH completed an analysis of barriers to health information exchange and issued recommendations for developing health information exchange infrastructure to support disaster preparedness and response.

In the final report authored by RTI, a phased approach was recommended to use existing data sources such as health plans and state agencies to overcome barriers to health information exchange across states.

“The SERCH effort will enable health care providers to contact a patient’s health plans and available health care providers for information about the patient’s medical history when it is most needed,” said Nicole Lurie, M.D., assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response.