Report Offers Guidelines for Putting Prescription Drug Information Online

In the wake of Katrina, a group of health care IT leaders recommends ways to help patients get necessary medications and informed care during a crisis.

A year after Hurricane Katrina disrupted thousands of lives across the South, a coalition of health IT leaders has outlined how to help evacuees get necessary medications and better-informed care.

The nonprofit Markle Foundation, a well-regarded think tank that analyzes business, logistic, and policy barriers in the adoption of health IT, on June 13 released a report called "Lessons from KatrinaHealth," which outlines lessons learned in posting secure, online information about prescription drug histories. The Foundation said that will ensure that medical staff get the information they need to care for patients and that evacuees get the prescriptions they need to function normally (or at least as close to normal as possible).

The report endorses open, Web-based systems for electronic health information systems. It recommends authorizing medical staff besides physicians (such as nurses) to retrieve and use information and agreeing on a common method to authenticate the identities of those accessing information.

Though some people with chronic conditions are supposed to take multiple medications a day, medical staff caring for evacuees after Hurricane Katrina often had no way of knowing what patients needed.

Not only did patients not get the medicines necessary in normal times, medical staff were often at a loss to know what was best for injured or disoriented people who came to them for care.

In the wake of the Katrina disaster, various health care entities cooperated to create The Web site became operational within three weeks of the disaster and provided access to evacuees medication information so that health workers could renew prescriptions, prescribe new medications, and coordinate care.

The effort was generally regarded as a success—a story of innovation and initiative. However, some information was unnecessarily slow to come online.

"It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of Katrina evacuees were taking prescription medications before the storm hit," said J. P. Little, chief operating officer of RxHub. "This Web site was particularly important because neither the evacuees nor their health care providers had access to their paper medical records, many of which were destroyed by the hurricane or left behind when evacuees fled their homes for safer inland locations."

RxHub helps pharmacies communicate electronically with PBMs, or companies that manage patients prescription drug benefits.

"Although it is impossible to be fully prepared for a national disaster, lessons were learned during Katrina that can help ensure that patients medication histories remain accessible in a private and secure manner in the wake of a disaster," said Zoë Baird, president of the Markle Foundation.

The Markle report concludes that the private sector and government must cooperate so that, next time, the infrastructure and policy are ready to provide medication privately, securely and seamlessly.

The report contains recommendations that can be implemented now, said David Medvedoff, head of Informed Decisions, one of the groups that helped make information available electronically during the crisis.

But Michael Maves, head of the American Medical Association, said individuals also needed to be certain that they can describe their medical conditions and prescriptions.

During the disaster, many patients could describe the colors and shapes of their medications, but could not identify the dose or type of medications more specifically.


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