The Louisiana Department of Health has been awarded a federal contract to develop a prototype of health information sharing and electronic health record support that can be used throughout the Gulf Coast region.

This electronic health information exchange, which will be developed through a $3.7M contract from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, will enable physicians, hospitals, clinics and other health care providers to easily share medical information to ensure effective and coordinated treatment. Electronic health records must meet all patient privacy and confidentiality standards.

“As part of Louisiana’s health care reform effort, we have worked to create a comprehensive health information network, and this initiative moved to the fast track when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed paper medical records and highlighted the intense need to electronically store and share important health information,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise. “When thousands evacuate from their homes and seek medical care from doctors and hospitals in communities where they have relocated, easy access to individual health information can make a crucial difference in their treatment and recovery.”

Illustrating the importance of electronic medical information, Dr. Cerise used the example of a family rapidly evacuating their home in New Orleans and leaving medical documents, medications and other health information behind. “We know many families evacuated thinking they would return home in a few days. But as the days wear on and individuals get sick or injured, this lack of medical information makes it difficult for them to receive timely and effective medical treatment,” he explained. “If health care providers have immediate access to electronic health information, delays can be avoided and more effective health care decisions can be made. This will enhance overall medical care.”

Dr. Roxane Townsend, Louisiana Medicaid Medical Director, is leading DHH’s development of the electronic health information exchange. According to Dr. Townsend, the goal of this project is to build a post-hurricane health care information exchange that improves patient safety and enhances efficiencies.

“This is a collaborative effort between both the federal and state governments, as well as private information technology partners including ORACLE, Inc. and Louisiana-based health care management services group, Healthworks, LLC.,” Dr. Townsend said. “The proposal for the project has been an excellent partnership, receiving active participation and support from the medical community.”

The Southern Governor’s Association (SGA) will provide leadership in establishing a Gulf Coast Health Information Technology Task Force to implement, support and disseminate state-of-the-art health information technology. “We are looking forward to working with the SGA and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to create a system that will not only be helpful in the event of a disaster, but will improve the health care provided daily to citizens of the Gulf Coast region,” Dr. Townsend said.