Saving Lives During Disasters
For Southeastern Louisiana residents and communities along the Gulf Coast, many people are preparing their evacuation kits and mentally gearing up for the peak storm season. Now just a few weeks out from the 2-year anniversary of Katrina, electronic medical records are a very important part of that preparation. The knowledge contained in a persons medical records can mean the difference between life or death, especially for severely ill patients, such as cancer and dialysis patients, in a major disaster.
Following Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans patients scrambled to locate their paper medical records, only to find that their physicians had evacuated and/or their records were lost due to flooding. However, nearly all of Ochsner Health System's 300,000 patients found their medical records safe and easily accessible thanks to an electronic record system: Ochsner Clinical Workstation (OCW). OCW allows medical files to be retrieved from any Ochsner location throughout Southeast Louisiana.
For critically ill patients, this means immediate resumption of life-saving treatments. "I treated many New Orleans patients who evacuated to Baton Rouge," explains Dr. Jay Brooks, MD, Chairman of Hematology/Oncology at Ochsner in Baton Rouge. "One in particular could only describe her medications by color and size. Immediately, I pulled up her profile on OCW and treated her. She was undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, and was a heart transplant recipient. She could not have gone long without her treatments and we were happy to be able to integrate her care."
"OCW is unique in that we profile the patient from birth to death, not by specific, episodic, medical events, such as stroke or heart attack," say Dr. Lynn Witherspoon, Chief Information Officer at Ochsner. "He explains this format allows our physicians to manage their patients longitudinally; looking back 20 to 30 years, to identify historical information to treat them more effectively."
But, not all technologies speak the same language; therefore, the biggest nation-wide challenge regarding medical records is creating a universal language to allow major medical centers the ability to communicate. Currently, electronic medical records are limited to single hospital systems (with the Veterans Administration and Department of Defense being the largest.)
Treating Cancer Electronically
Ochsner and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are participating in a pilot program sharing electronic communication on patients that both centers currently treat. "This could be a significant improvement for patients because it will allow physicians to keep their care consistent," says Brooks. Ochsner and M.D. Anderson jointly care for several cancer patients in Louisiana. "Ochsner is taking access a step further. We plan to provide patients with online access to their own medical records," explains Witherspoon. "This would empower patients with the ability to keep their medical history in their possession in case of an emergency."
Ochsner is participating in a Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals project to develop electronic clinical information exchange between South Louisiana providers called LaHIE.
For three years in a row, Ochsner has been named one of the country's "Most Wired" Hospitals, according to a study published by Hospitals and Health Networks.