States collaborate to exchange data during disaster

Ten states are working on a health exchange so that if a widespread disaster occurs, they'll be prepared to provide records for people displaced from their homes.

"Through disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy and large tornadoes in Alabama and Joplin, Mo., in 2011 and more recently in Moore, Okla., we have learned the importance of protecting patients' health records through electronic tools like health information exchanges," Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health IT, said in an announcement. "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."

Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia have joined in partnership led by the Southeast Regional Health IT and Health Information Exchange Collaboration (SERCH).

They're working to create an infrastructure using Direct technology to maintain interstate connections during a disaster. All have at least one interstate connection, and are working with other states including Arkansas and Mississippi to provide records for people displaced from their homes.

In 2012, SERCH completed analysis of  barriers to interchange exchange and recommended a phased approach, including using existing data sources such as health plans and state agencies to overcome them.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, meanwhile, has issued a guidebook to help primary care physicians connect patient records to a regional exchange.

The 45-bed Moore Medical Center was destroyed, but its records preserved through a regional exchange. The Missouri Hospital Association put together a report on lessons learned from the Joplin disaster.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services awarded about $332 million to states, territories and large cities to help hospitals and health systems improve their disaster planning.

To learn more:
- find the announcement
- read the SERCH analysis
- check out the AHRQ guidebook