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Our Most Valuable Possession

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By Jamie Martin, Marketing & Communications Manager

By Aug. 17, 2016, the floodwaters had receded enough in the Old Jefferson Subdivision in Baton Rouge to allow residents to return by boat to assess the extent of the damage.

Since coming to my role with the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum in 2012, I’ve told the story of our organization’s origins hundreds of times – how we were established as a private, not-for-profit organization by the state legislature in 2007 in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, how the hurricanes left thousands of Louisiana residents without access to their medical records, how our state took a proactive stance in building a strong health IT infrastructure so that those circumstances would not be repeated, how the Quality Forum was tasked with building and administering that infrastructure.

While I understood immediately the value of having a health IT infrastructure in place – an infrastructure bolstered by electronic health records (EHRs) and a statewide health information exchange (HIE) – during times of disaster, the historic flooding in our beautiful state in recent weeks has redefined that value for me.

Seeing is believing, as the saying goes, and seeing our homes and the homes and businesses of our loved ones and neighbors taken by the floodwaters has been heartbreaking. Many of us have spent the last couple of weeks first escaping our homes then returning to gut them and put all our belongings in piles by the curb.

Residents evacuate on foot on Lockhart Road in Denham Springs on Aug. 14, 2016, after their vehicles are overcome by the rising floodwaters.

A Denham Springs street, almost completely under water one week ago, is lined with flood-ravaged belongings and debris on Aug. 20, 2016, as residents prepare to rebuild.

Since the floodwaters have receded, we’ve been far too busy mourning our many losses and navigating the frightening world of flood insurance and disaster relief to worry much about things like the loss of our medical records and our doctors’ offices.

But yes, some of us have lost those, too.

For all that our state has done since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, there remain health care providers who have not adopted EHRs and who have not connected to the statewide HIE. Now, with their offices taken by the flood, their patients’ medical records have been lost, and much like our photo albums and family heirlooms, no insurance company or disaster relief fund in the world can replace them.

Situations like this are why we should request and keep copies of our health records. It’s why we should ask our health care providers to transition to EHRs and to connect to the statewide HIE. It’s why our doctors should adopt health IT in their practices. It’s why we must be engaged in our health and health care.

Louisiana is a beautiful state, but unfortunately, we will always be at risk for hurricanes, floods and other such disasters. We cannot prevent those disasters, but we can be prepared when it comes to our health and health care.

Request copies of your health information, and keep those records safe. Encourage your doctors to adopt EHRs and connect to the HIE. Ask them to make your health information available electronically through patient portals.

Our health is one of our most valuable possessions. And right now, it’s the only possession many of us have left.

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Guest Monday, 20 May 2019