HIEs should be part of state disaster planning

A report prepared for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT offers a strategic plan for the sharing of clinical information via health information exchanges in the event of a natural disaster.

The 117 page report, prepared by a consortium of six Southeastern states, focuses on how to leverage HIEs to provide timely access to clinical information in response to a disaster. It suggests that while HIE use is expanding, a phased-in approach is the "most appropriate strategy" and builds on the lessons learned over the years, including lessons learned from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, which displaced more than one million people.

The report recommends that state HIEs:

  • Understand the State's disaster response policies and align with the State agency designated for Emergency Support Function before a disaster occurs.
  • Develop standard procedures approved by relevant public and private stakeholders to share electronic health information across State lines before a disaster occurs.
  • Consider enacting the Mutual Aid Memorandum of Understanding to establish a waiver of liability for the release of records when an emergency is declared and to default state privacy and security laws to existing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules in a disaster. States should also consider using the Data Use and Reciprocal Support Agreement in order to address and/or expedite patient privacy, security, and health data-sharing concerns.
  • Assess the State's availability of public and private health information sources and the ability to electronically share the data using HIE(s) and other health data-sharing entities.
  • Consider a phased approach to establishing interstate electronic health information-sharing capabilities.

The report also noted that "[t]he best way to ensure that health information can be accessed during an emergency is to ensure that it can be accessed during routine care."

The states represented in the consortium were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas; the report, however, is intended for use by any state, according to a recent post on the Health IT Buzz blog.

Disaster planning has become a front burner issue as disasters seem to be increasing in frequency and severity. The Missouri Hospital Association issued a report earlier this year outlining how local hospitals coped with floods, blizzards and tornados that damaged them and wiped out their EHRs.

To learn more:
- here's blog post announcing the report
- read the report (.pdf)