Database allows access to Rx records

October 1, 2005

National Reports— In the days after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demonstrated the value of electronic health records (EHRs) by developing an online database that includes prescription information for the previous 90 days prior to the day Katrina hit for more than 800,000 individuals located in 150 ZIP codes affected by the hurricane.

NATIONAL REPORTS- In the days after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demonstrated the value of electronic health records (EHRs) by developing an online database that includes prescription information for the previous 90 days prior to the day Katrina hit for more than 800,000 individuals located in 150 ZIP codes affected by the hurricane.

The site, http://www.katrinahealth.org/, is a password-protected site that provides a single point of entry to query a large collection of existing databases owned by retail pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and state Medicaid programs. "HHS has been working with these groups to link together their existing databases and provide a single-point of access to query all of them, so that a physician in a shelter can reconstruct the prescription information for an individual based on information the individual provides," HHS spokesman Bill Hall tells MANAGED HEALTHCARE EXECUTIVE.

"Access to the system so far is granted to healthcare providers in evacuee shelters. We are testing it in selected shelters and hope to expand it to more if it works successfully, which we believe it will," Hall says.

Access to PBM medication histories will be made available through the KatrinaHealth Web site with a connection to RxHub. RxHub's Master Patient Index (MPI) currently holds close to 150 million records based on membership from PBMs and payers. Express Scripts is one PBM that is participating in RxHub's MPI. "This speaks to the value of electronic healthcare applications and hopefully will serve to further accelerate adoption," says Phil Rothermich, vice president, physician connectivity at Express Scripts. "What will be needed as this population gets more dispersed and relocates to more communities is a solution like RxHub that will allow physicians to access this information, which is now up-to-date and real time, with applications they are currently using or choose to adopt."

Walgreens, one of the retail pharmacies working with HHS, already has electronic records of all of its patients, but "the next step would be in having those records more broadly available, especially in emergencies like this, while protecting patient privacy," says Michael Polzin, Walgreens spokesman.

Walgreens has made special arrangements to fill prescriptions for Medicaid patients from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, even if they are getting prescriptions filled in other states. "We're also talking with the governments involved on payment arrangements for those prescriptions," Polzin says. "For evacuees with private prescription insurance, we're asking for their insurance information and billing their insurance companies as usual."

Walgreens is using a new system in the aftermath of Katrina that electronically scans the patient prescription and sends the image of that prescription from a busy Walgreens store to another Walgreens location that is having a slower day. "The pharmacy staff there then enters the prescription information and verifies that it has been entered correctly," Polzin says.

The system had been tested in Florida, but after the hurricane, Walgreens received permission from the state boards of pharmacy in the Gulf Coast states to activate the system there. "There's no timetable yet on when we might deactivate it," he says. "Eventually, we do plan to roll out this system chainwide."