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Posted by on in EHRs

By Cindy Munn, CEO, Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum

For the last several years, the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum has proudly partnered in National Health IT Week, Sept. 26-30, a weeklong, partner-driven effort to increase awareness about the value of health IT.

As an organization that has worked with more than 2,000 health care providers across the state in the transition to electronic health records (EHRs) and manages the statewide health information exchange (HIE), National Health IT Week provides us with an opportunity to educate others about the benefits of health IT.

These benefits speak for themselves, but there’s so much more that we can do – both as health care professionals and health care consumers – to drive health IT awareness. National Health IT Week is the perfect opportunity to do just that. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Visit our special website for patient engagement resources and information.

  • Are you a student? Take part in the NHIT Week Inaugural Student Challenge. HIMSS is challenging students from health policy, informatics, public policy, computer science, public health and related academic programs to develop and implement health IT advocacy issues in their state or region. (How great would it be if students at Louisiana’s wonderful colleges and universities took the lead on this?) The grand prizewinner will receive a travel stipend of $1,000 and free registration to the 2017 HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition, which is kind of like winning a free ticket to the Super Bowl.

  • Participate in a National Health IT Week event. From webinars and workshops to symposiums and events, there is a virtual smorgasbord of opportunities to get involved in health IT.

  • Share your story about health IT. The personal stories of health care professionals and patients can make a tremendous impact on policy related to health IT. By sharing your story, you can help promote the value of health IT to decision-makers across the country.

Regardless of how you choose to get involved, whether it’s attending an event or taking advantage of an opportunity to learn more about health IT through a webinar, we hope that you will take action. Health care is something that affects all of us, and together, we can make it better through health IT.

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Posted by on in EHRs

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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Posted by on in EHRs

By Jamie Martin, Marketing & Communications Manager

For several years, the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum has joined in national efforts to raise awareness of the value of health IT. We’ve partnered with organizations at community, state and national levels across the country to drive health IT adoption among health care professionals and to promote the use of health IT tools and resources among health care consumers both here in our beautiful state and across the U.S. And once again, we are proudly participating in National Health IT Week, observed this year Sept. 26-30.

For those unfamiliar with NHIT Week, it’s a partner-driven, weeklong opportunity to raise health IT awareness and to drive improvements in health care delivery through the advancement of information technology. It’s an exciting, nationwide effort, and we invite you to join us.

Becoming an NHIT Week partner is simple. It doesn’t matter if you are representing a non-profit, a corporate entity or an organization; partnership opportunities are available at multiple levels, and it doesn’t cost a thing. Your participation lends your voice to a national effort to advance health IT across the spectrum of health care, and it provides you with the opportunity to inspire others by sharing your own story…like this one from Afton Wagner and this great video by Mandi Bishop.

Together, we can make a difference. We can drive improvements in the health care we receive as consumers and the care we deliver as providers. We can lead the charge to have better communication with our providers and greater connectivity among all members of our health care team.

We heart health IT.

You should, too.

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Posted by on in EHRs
By Jamie Martin, Marketing & Communications Manager
Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum

For several months, we’ve been leading a statewide campaign to educate Louisiana’s patients and families about health IT and to promote the use of health IT to manage their health and health care. It’s been an exciting effort –our state is one of the first in the country to launch such a campaign, and now it’s time to track our progress thus far.

One year ago, we conducted a statewide survey to identify health IT awareness levels among Louisiana’s health care consumers. The results were quite telling – for example, we learned the following:
  • 68 percent of respondents did not possess copies of their health information at that time, and only 51 percent had ever requested copies of their health records.
  • 58 percent tracked their health information by asking their doctors when they needed it.
  • 90 percent were familiar with electronic health records; 79 percent with patient portals; and 51 percent with the statewide health information exchange.
That survey also provided respondents with the ability to share personal feedback. This is what those respondents said:
  • 26 percent indicated they would use health IT to track and manage their care if the technology is easy to use.
  • 11 percent indicated they would use a patient portal if they had access to a working one through their doctors.
  • 6 percent indicated they would prefer a patient portal that included all information from their providers (i.e., single sign-on).
A year has passed since we gathered that data, and now it is time to measure how far we’ve come in the last 12 months. The new survey is now live, and you can take it by clicking here.
The survey takes less than two minutes to complete, and your feedback will help us to identify how we can continue to help educate Louisiana residents about the value of health IT and the importance of being pro-active in their health and health care.

Thank you in advance for sharing your insights and helping our state to improve health and health care for its residents.
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Posted by on in EHRs

By Brenda Garibaldi Hatfield, PhD

I am one of 660,000 family caregivers here in Louisiana. My husband and I are caregivers for his 97-year-old mother. It is gratifying to give back to our loved one, but nonetheless an emotional and physically tiring responsibility every day.

However, there are thousands of others who work tirelessly caring for older parents, spouses, partners, friends or other loved ones so that they can continue living independently, with dignity, at home—where they want to be.  

While the vast majority of older Louisiana residents want to remain in their homes and communities as they age, the contributions of family caregivers cannot be overlooked. This silent army is the backbone of elder care in our state, providing 615 million hours of unpaid care valued at about $6.47 billion annually. Without the help of family caregivers, too many of our seniors would end up in costly institutions – often paid for by the state, through Medicaid.

The average caregiver devotes 24 hours each week to a loved one, helping with tasks like trips to the doctor, bathing and dressing, meal preparation and chores around the house. These caregivers often have a full or part-time job, so caregiving is done in their “spare time.”

For some family caregivers, their role is even more involved and stressful, 24 hours around the clock, often performing complicated medical tasks like wound care, injections and medication management— tasks that were once in the domain of only doctors or nurses. 

It is important for these caregivers to have access to critical health care information so they can help make informed decisions about the health and the health care of their loved ones. Tools such as patient portals and electronic health records can be great assets to caregivers in accessing that information.

Yet even with those tools, caregivers could use a little help, and AARP is working hard with lawmakers and policymakers to find common sense solutions.  

AARP was part of a workgroup that wrote a report, called “Louisiana Family Caregiver Blueprint,” that uncovered ways to support family caregivers. Some of these solutions include:

  • Helping family caregivers when their loved ones go into the hospital and as they return home (The Louisiana Caregiver Act, SB 376).

  • Workplace flexibility so family caregivers don’t have to worry about losing their pay – or losing their jobs – when they have to take time off work to bring their older loved one to a doctor’s appointment.

  • “Respite care” that allows family caregivers to take a hard-earned break.

  • Access to the right resources available in the community, like home care and adult day programs.

  • Legislation to cut through the red tape and allow nurses to have the full authority to heal.

  • Help to navigate financial challenges by making sure adult guardianship laws are consistent and honored from state to state.

Every day is an opportunity for us to recognize the 660,000 family caregivers in Louisiana who give their hearts to help their older loved ones stay at home—where they want to live.  

So to all family caregivers in Louisiana, thank you for all that you do.

Brenda Hatfield, PhD, is the AARP Regional Volunteer Director, South Region, and a member of the Health Care Consumer Advisory Council. She has been a teacher, librarian, instructional media and technology administrator, cable executive and a retired city administrator.

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By Susan Nelson, MD
LaPOST Coalition Chair

Last November, the Louisiana Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (LaPOST) program had the opportunity to collaborate with Our Lady of the Lake College (OLOL College) in Baton Rouge for a unique service-learning partnership. Students from OLOL College’s Health Service Administration – Health Care Marketing class were tasked with developing a social media campaign that would generate awareness and education, specifically among young adults, about LaPOST and the importance of advance care planning. One of the centerpieces of the campaign was a unifying hashtag that participants could use to show their support for the cause, and thus, #HonorMyWishes was born.

With every image that was posted, liked, shared or tweeted, our message expanded to new audiences, potentially inspiring people of various ages to begin contemplating their medical treatment preferences. Therein lies the beauty of social media; familiarity is not essential for impact. The only requirement is a message capable of resonating with the receiver. #HonorMyWishes is a rallying cry for patients, family members and others who believe in the power of the patient’s voice and support the importance of that voice being heard.

In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), observed annually on April 16, LaPOST is reviving the #HonorMyWishes campaign to encourage people to have discussions with their loved ones and physicians about the kinds of medical treatment they would/would not want to receive if they could no longer speak for themselves. The goal is to prompt conversations about the advance care planning options available to them and to help remove the stigma associated with end-of-life care.

So, how can you get involved?

We’re asking you to take photos displaying a sign that describes what advance care planning means to you and/or why it should matter to others. Upload the images to the LaPOST Facebook page or tag us on Twitter @LouisianaPOLST, and be sure to include the hashtag #HonorMyWishes.

What began as a marketing concept for a college course project has the potential to evolve into a social movement driven by those who value the patient’s right to make their treatment wishes known, and those who take a proactive approach to managing their health care. The LaPOST Coalition invites everyone to take part in our push to drive the conversation on advance care planning, one image at a time.

For more information on advance care planning options in Louisiana, visit la-post.org.

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Posted by on in EHRs

By Nadine Robin, Health IT Programs Director
Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum

A little more than a month ago, we announced a video challenge designed to showcase Louisiana’s engaged patients, and last week, we announced the winners of that challenge and shared their videos on our Facebook page. We were excited to receive so many entries – it was wonderful to watch those videos and see how our fellow Louisianans are taking proactive roles in their health and health care – but there was one video in particular that truly inspired us and was thus named the winner of the grand prize, an Apple iPad® Air.

The video submitted by 13-year-old Grace Kennedy, daughter of William and Angela Kennedy of Bernice, La., shared an incredible tale of a young lady who is more engaged in and knowledgeable about her health and health care than many adults. Grace, at age 11, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, which the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation describes as “a life-threatening, genetic disease that causes lung infections and progressively limits the ability to breathe.”

Grace – at 13 – is a master of the patient portal, a guru of wearable devices and an expert decision-maker in her own health and health care. She has a team of health care providers that spans two states; she receives care from some wonderful providers in her area as well as experts in her condition at Texas Children’s Hospital. Grace uses her patient portal and the data gleaned from her wearable devices, not to mention her own research into her condition, to keep them all informed so that her care is coordinated and as seamless as possible. In her video, Grace refers to health IT as her “saving Grace” when it comes to her health and health care, and we can’t think of a better way to describe it.

In short, Grace is the very definition of an engaged patient, and we applaud her for being such an amazing inspiration and example to others. Yet we would be remiss if we did not also applaud her parents, William and Angela, for teaching Grace the value of being so engaged in her health.

As parents, we teach our children many things, beginning when they are very young – to wash their hands, to look both ways before crossing the street, to never talk to strangers. As they grow up, these lessons become more complex – the value of hard work, how to make good decisions, how to plan for the future. But sadly, we rarely include lessons about the importance of being proactive in their own health and health care.

Grace’s parents have clearly made those lessons a priority for her. They’ve given her access to all the tools they can find to help her engage in her health and taught her to use those tools, and in doing so, they’ve helped Grace become the most important person on her care team. Like Grace, they are an inspiration.

So to Grace, we offer heartfelt and sincere congratulations for being the winner of the video challenge, and to both Grace and her family, we share our thanks for being shining examples of patient engagement in our state.

Editor’s Note: Scott Zeigler, 41, of Baton Rouge, La., was named the second place winner in the video challenge. Zeigler, in his video, described how his family uses patient portals and mobile apps to track and manage their care and discusses how his family incorporates fun, physical activity to stay healthy. The third place winner was M.E. Boogaerts, 5, of Shreveport, La., the daughter of Charles and Anna Boogaerts. In her video, M.E. provides an enthusiastic description of how she stays active and healthy by riding her bicycle, jumping on her trampoline and other physical activities. Their videos may be viewed on the Your Health In Your Hands Facebook page.

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Posted by on in EHRs
Jillian Washington
Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum

Millennials. Generation Y. Generation Z. Society has crafted many labels to identify today’s young adult population, and with each title comes a conception about young adults that, comparatively, seems to ring true: When it comes to health and health care, many young people fail to take an interest.

A 2010 survey by the American Stroke Association polled more than 1,200 adults and found that 43 percent of those ages 18-24 were not concerned about their cardiovascular health. This is in spite of the fact that many of those surveyed admitted to engaging in unhealthy behaviors - eating fast food and consuming sugary beverages and alcohol, for example - that could lead to heart health issues later in life.

Interestingly, the 18-24 year old segment reported the highest rates of engaging in physical activity. This finding reflects the latest shift in American culture toward healthier living. In the last five years, trends such as CrossFit, juicing and wearable fitness trackers have increased in popularity, but not necessarily among younger demographics.

It is plausible to presume that while some millennials have an unwavering commitment to healthy living, others have an on-again, off-again relationship with positive healthy behaviors. This may be explained by the fact that most 20-somethings are primarily focused on finishing college, establishing their careers and securing their financial independence from mom and dad.

For them, an all-or-nothing approach to health may not work. But there is certainly room for improvement, and this issue is one that Your Health in Your Hands seeks to address. Encouraging Louisianans – regardless of age - to get engaged in their health is a primary focus of the campaign and is one that the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum values as a key factor in improving health and health outcomes for residents across the state.

There are numerous ways to “get engaged” in your health that don’t involve investing in a gym membership or even require a great deal of time. You can take a brisk walk during your lunch break, plant a garden in your backyard, practice meditation or simply make routine visits to your physician and keep track of your test results and health information through your patient portal.

The goal is to make an effort.

It is important to recognize that there is no ideal path to achieving better health, but the journey itself begins with that proverbial first step. Remember, small changes today can generate lasting benefits in the future. So millennials, it’s time to shift focus and make your health a priority.
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By Jamie Martin,
Marketing & Communications Manager
Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum

We’ve been working for months to educate Louisiana’s patients and families about the value of health IT as a tool to improve their health and health care. And then it dawned on us: what better way to inspire people to get involved in their health than by sharing the stories of real engaged patients?
And what better way to thank engaged patients for being so proactive in their health than to offer an amazing prize?
So: we’re excited to announce a fun video challenge for Louisiana residents who are engaged in their health.
Here’s what you need to do:
  1. Make a video telling us how you engage in your health. Your video can be taken with a phone, a camera or any device you choose. The video should not be more than 90 seconds long.
  2. Send the video to us before midnight Feb. 8, 2016. You can submit it via our Facebook page or simply email it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please be sure to include your name and telephone number for verification purposes.
The winner will be selected by a committee and will be awarded a new 16 GB Apple iPad® Air!
Sharing your story through this easy video challenge can do more than help you win a great prize – it could also inspire others to take charge of their health just like you’ve done because your video may be included in our library of engaged patient stories!
So as you prepare your video, please remember – there are lots of ways to engage in your health. Perhaps you work out every day, or get regular checkups at your doctor’s office. Maybe you use mobile apps to manage a health condition, or find fun ways to be active with your family. Perhaps you eat healthy, or use a patient portal to track your health information. Or maybe you do any combination of these – or other – things to take charge of your health. Whatever it is that you do to engage in your health, tell us about it in your video! (If you need a little inspiration, click here for an amazing story!)
It’s your health. It’s your story. Be an inspiration to others.
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Posted by on in EHRs
By Jillian Washington, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum
As Americans, we generally know our rights: the rights to life, to hold property, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness. But how well do we know our rights as patients?
Unfortunately, not very well at all.
Generally speaking, patient rights are the basic rules that apply to us and to our health care providers. Our doctors give us information about these rights at the time of care, and sadly, we read them about as well as we read the terms and conditions agreements that apply to our smartphones…which is to say, most of us don’t read them at all. We simply sign the stack of papers that describe our rights as patients and go on with our lives.
The fact is, as patients, we have certain rights. Some of these rights are guaranteed by federal law, and the most important of these is the right to have copies of our medical records.
In this modern age, we often have certain technologies – like patient portals - available to us. These portals allow us to access our medical records when we need them and when it’s convenient to us.
While many of our doctors have patient portals, there are still many who don’t, but this does not mean that we, as patients, do not still have the right to see and have copies of our medical records, regardless of whether those copies are paper or electronic.
There are any number of reasons why we might need copies of our health information – perhaps we have a new doctor or need to share our information with another doctor on our care team, or maybe we’re moving and need to take our information with us, or we could just want to make sure all our information is correct. No matter what our reason is, we have the right to see and have copies of that information, and we do not have to give a reason for wanting it.
There are things we can do to help us get copies of our information. It’s helpful to know what information we need, who has that information and how we want to get that information.
The fact is, the first and most important step in becoming an engaged patient is knowing what’s in our own medical records. We cannot make informed decisions about our health and our health care without this information, and as patients, we are entitled to it.

So use your patient rights – ask your doctors for copies of your medical records. Read it carefully and ask questions about it. It’s your health, and it’s your health information. Use it to your advantage.
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By Christine Maynard, Patient Advocate

When my mother was in her 80’s, my sister and I decided it was time to have a discussion with her concerning the whereabouts of her medical records. We didn't have any of her medical history, doctors’ contact information or records of drug allergies. Being a proud southern woman, and feeling that walking four miles a day protected her against any negative effects of aging or diseases, she declined to agree with our "need to know."

Finally, while packing for elder hosteling abroad she primly replied, "I'll leave a note." My sister and I looked between mattresses, under floorboards and in drawers with secret panels for days for that note at a crucial time.

We never found it.

There are remedies to potential problems like this. Vital health information can easily be recorded in our secure medical portals. In a medical emergency, details can be instantly accessed and potentially save our lives or the lives of our loved ones.

Besides a living will with our preferences for end-of-life care, we can often include blood type, relevant medical histories and even instructions for our pets’ care if we were suddenly hospitalized in the patient notes of our patient portal. As informed patients and savvy health care consumers, we should all use our patient portals in case those providing or managing our care need that information.
Case in point: I had a vena cava filter in place for 13 years. It is a titanium device that looks like a complicated fishing lure with pointy bits like hooks. It is designed to catch clots before they enter the lungs. I was tasked with informing medical professionals of its placement, but I always wondered, what would happen if I were unconscious?  Even though it could be seen on a scan, what if it was missed? Wouldn't it be better if that information was in an electronic file that could be instantly accessed in case of a medical emergency?

Even if we don’t have patient portals or electronic patient notes available to us, there are options we can use to make certain this kind of critical information is accessible to our care providers in emergency situations. For example, iPhone users can load important health information into the ‘emergency’ section of their phone, and even if the phone is locked, that information will still be available to emergency care providers.
Medical devices, implants, hardware (titanium rods, hip replacements, etc.,) history from previous surgeries, how one responds to anesthesia, drug allergies and sensitivities, underlying conditions - all of this information needs to be instantaneously accessible if a medical crisis occurs. We can't plan or prevent these things. But we can be prepared.

Examine your current comfort level and game plan for how others would access your vital records. If it is leaving a note, you may want to upgrade your plan. Medical portals can provide an invaluable service in storing critical information that is easy for your medical team to retrieve.

Talk to your doctor about patient portals and other tools you can use to ensure that your health information is available when and where it’s needed. Don't put it off, and don't be embarrassed if you are not computer savvy. Ask a family member or friend for help inputting the data if you need it.

Take the patient portal plunge, if you haven't already. It is much simpler than you might imagine. It is a useful tool through which to communicate with your doctors.

And more importantly, it could save your life.

Christine Maynard, formerly of Natchitoches, La., is an author and journalist. As the survivor of a serious motor vehicle accident that placed her in a medically induced coma and required many surgeries, she is well aware of the difficulties patients face in navigating the health care system. Her unique perspective has inspired her to become a patient advocate whose most important message to doctors and patients is that the patient is the doctor's greatest resource.
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By Cindy Munn, CEO
Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum

This week marks a momentous occasion: the 10th anniversary of National Health IT (NHIT) Week. For us, it’s a slightly smaller, but no less important, anniversary – it’s our third consecutive year topartner with hundreds of organizations across the country in NHIT Week.

The theme of this year’s NHIT Week, “One Voice, One Vision: Transforming Health,” is a special one to us because that’s just what we’re doing in Louisiana. Since our beginning in 2007, we have worked closely with our state and its many health care providers, facilities and organizations to build a comprehensive health IT infrastructure to improve the quality, delivery and cost of care as well as health outcomes. Thus, we are understandably proud this week to share an update on how far our state has come in the past eight years.

The Quality Forum, as the State-Designated Entity for health IT programs in Louisiana, continues to support health care providers and critical access/rural hospitals in the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs). To date, more than 2,000 health care providers across 37 specialties in Louisiana have utilized the resources available through the Quality Forum to adopt EHRs.

In addition, the Quality Forum implemented and manages the Louisiana Health Information Exchange (LaHIE), a secure, confidential network through which authorized health care providers and organizations can electronically access and share health-related information for the purpose of improving patient safety, quality of care and health outcomes. Since its launch just four years ago, LaHIE has grown to include more than 240 health care providers, hospitals, school-based health centers, home health agencies and other health care companies across the state. Currently, LaHIE features nearly four million unique patient records and processes more than 79 million transactions per month. Its footprint encompasses nearly every parish in Louisiana.

In addition, the Quality Forum, in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), is leading a statewide consumer engagement campaign to provide education to Louisiana’s patients and families about health IT tools such as patient portals, EHRs and LaHIE and how these tools can be used to improve their health and health care. Louisiana is the first state in the nation to launch such a statewide, direct-to-consumer health IT engagement campaign.

These initiatives are how our state is transforming health care for its residents. The successes Louisiana has had in health IT adoption would not have been possible without the commitment and dedication of countless health care, consumer and community organizations, state agencies and health care providers and entities. So as we celebrate this year’s NHIT Week, we do so by extending our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to those organizations, agencies and individuals for their hard work.

Together, we truly are building a healthier state.
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By Christine Maynard, Patient Advocate

In 1969, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew vowed publicly that cable television would not fly in America. In his estimation, people would continue to go to the "picture show" to see movies; they would never be broadcast into living rooms across the country. Clearly, technology changed that, giving us the ability to broaden our horizons from the comfort of our own homes.

Technology has also changed how we access information, including our health information. The ability to gather health records online opens many new doors for us as patients. Now, through patient portals, we can view our medical information, from test results to doctor's notes, from our homes or offices.

We no longer have to wait at a doctor's office for the staff to print our records, which some patients incorrectly believe belong to the doctor or hospital. These are our records, and using a portal increases transparency and our ease of access to our records. We don't even have to call the doctor (and wait for a call back) to ask what meds we took previously, to request a refill on a prescription or even to schedule an appointment. There is a place in most portals to ask questions of our doctors, saving us a trip and sometimes a lengthy wait in a room filled with sick people who could be spreading viruses.
It is all at our fingertips in the patient portal.

This does not require being tech savvy. It requires only Internet access, whether from a desktop computer or a smartphone, and a very small learning curve.

Our access to important health information does not begin and end with patient portals, either. We can google medical terms, a diagnosis or a differential, which refers to other possibilities to be considered when looking for a diagnosis. This free self-education provides a clearer picture of our health. There are unlimited opportunities to learn more about our health and what we - and our doctors - can do to improve it, and these learning opportunities are only a click away. Education is everything when it comes to effecting positive change.

Now that we have our medical records at our fingertips, and we can go online and research any terms we don't understand or wish to know more about, we should feel empowered! Health IT is a tool that promotes positive doctor-patient communication.

It only makes sense that as patients like us are empowered, our relationships with our doctors shift. We understand that the ideal health care is a two-way street. Hopefully, a "side effect" of being able to access our records online will be the realization that doctors want us to provide input and to be an active part of the decision making process, asking questions such as, "What are the side effects of statins?" or, "What are the risks and benefits of blood thinners?"

In the popular TV series, "House," Dr. House stated, "All patients lie, and learning what information the patient is withholding is the key to the cure." This is not the attitude fostered in health care today. We are experiencing a paradigm shift, and as patients, we are a tremendous resource and a vital component of our own well-being.

We should not hesitate to use resources like patient portals. It requires only a call to our doctors' offices to request passwords or usernames. As patients, we must get online, get the facts and get engaged in our health!

Christine Maynard, formerly of Natchitoches, La., is an author and journalist who has studied alternative medicine with healers in many parts of the world. As the survivor of a serious motor vehicle accident that placed her in a medically induced coma and required many surgeries, she is well aware of the difficulties patients face in navigating the health care system. Her unique perspective has inspired her to become a patient advocate whose most important message to doctors and patients is that the patient is the doctor's greatest resource.

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Posted by on in EHRs

By Jamie Martin, Marketing & Communications Manager,
Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum

For several years, I’ve written, talked, Tweeted, Facebooked and blogged about the value of patient engagement. I’ve promoted the importance of being an educated patient by asking questions and doing research, and I have been a very vocal cheerleader for the patients who do those things.

And then I didn’t take my own advice.

Recently, a dear loved one required surgery to repair a subdural hematoma, a condition in which blood collects beneath the skull and puts pressure on the brain. The surgeon informed us that there would be “some confusion” after the surgery was complete and added, “Don’t worry about that because it will go away.”

So we didn’t worry about it…until the surgery was complete, and our loved one had not a clue who we were, who he was, where he was or even why he was there. From there, the “confusion” progressed to hallucinations, paranoia, memory loss and loss of verbal skills with brief periods in which he seemed perfectly fine, which kept us just as confused as he was.

So whose fault was it that we were so sadly unprepared for these behaviors? Was it the doctor’s fault for not being clearer about to expect after the surgery? Was it our fault for not asking more questions?

The answer: both.

The doctor should have provided us with more information. Instead of saying, “There will be some confusion, but don’t worry about that because it will go away,” he should have said, “There will be some confusion, so let me describe that in more detail so you know what to expect.” He could have provided some examples of types of behaviors that we might see and how we should handle those behaviors. He should have explained, in layman’s terms, the cause of those behaviors and what, if anything, could be done medically to treat them.

And we, as the family, had a responsibility to ask more questions: What kind of confusion? How long does it typically last? Will there be any long-term effects? What can we do to help reduce the confusion? How should we react to things like hallucinations, paranoia and loss of verbal skills? What medications will be given, and why?

Unfortunately, we tend to shy away from questioning our doctors. After all, they have spent years and years in school learning their skills – who are we to question what they tell us? But really, that is our job as health care consumers. Our doctors are not mind readers – they cannot answer the questions that we do not ask.

Think of it like this: We would never buy a car without asking the salesperson questions about warranties, gas mileage, safety features and the like – why do we accept health care services without asking our doctors about side effects, symptoms, medications and possible reactions?
So to my fellow health care consumers, please remember: If we do not ask questions, we will not receive any answers and our doctors will assume that we have all the information we need. A single question can start a conversation that will allow our doctors to empower us with all the details we need to make the right decisions about our health.

And doctors, nurses and health care professionals, please remember that we do not have your extensive training or your incredibly complex medical vocabularies. We may not always know what questions we need to ask, especially if we are in the midst of a medical crisis. We come to you because we trust you – please, take a few extra minutes to make certain that we understand what you’re saying to us.

Communication is truly a two-way street. As patients and providers, we have a responsibility to travel that street together.

Jamie Martin is a former print journalist from South Arkansas. As the communications manager for the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum, she manages operational communications for health information technology (IT) initiatives in Louisiana. She is a wife, mother of four and an advocate for patient engagement. Connect with her on Twitter at @davisjamie77.


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Posted by on in EHRs
By Brenda Hatfield, PhD

When health care services are criticized because of rising costs, health records that follow patients across the health care system are one way to save money and add efficiency to patients’ care. The costs of health care services and insurance rise significantly when patients move, switch physicians and hospitals or seek second opinions. Often these patients are forced to take many of the same expensive tests all over again, just because their records are not accessible electronically.

As a health care consumer, I am annoyed by the mounds of mail I receive from insurers, physicians, hospitals and clinics. Those mailings are costly, waste paper and expend great sums on ever increasing postage fees. All those paper reports, reminder post cards and billings could easily be sent electronically, thus saving me from being drowned in piles of paper and lost and messy files at home. I really prefer being able to schedule my appointments online, email questions or concerns to my doctors, request prescription refills, retrieve test results and information about my medical conditions, keep a list of my medications and immunizations, and of course pay bills – all electronically while saving trees.

Unfortunately, I have heard countless excuses from some companies that seniors do not want electronic records, cannot use computers, do not trust computers, do not own computers, and blah, blah, blah. Truly, there is a critical “Digital Divide” in our communities that impacts older, under-educated citizens as the result of race, class, gender and socio-economic disparities. Yet everyday, 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65 and most of them are computer literate. For less fortunate Boomers and the more elderly who are not computer literate, we all need to offer a helping hand.
It’s good to see helping hands in many communities where public libraries, senior centers, community organizations and hospitals are providing access to computers or computer literacy workshops for their constituents. I am excited to be a member of the DHH-Quality Forum Health Care Consumer Advisory Council and to share the commitment to engaging Louisiana residents in the use of IT to improve health and health care quality in our state. I am also delighted that AARP has organized a Technology Education & Knowledge (TEK) Academy for persons 50 and older. AARPTEK already provides a dynamic Technology Education Center on itswebsite that delivers on-line learning with videos, tools and tips for all levels of users and with various types of devices. We can now look forward to even more progress in our state with the adoption of more electronic patient portals. Indeed, it will continue to take our “whole village” to achieve this important health care mission.

Brenda Hatfield, PhD, is Volunteer State President of Louisiana AARP and a member of the Health Care Consumer Advisory Council. She has been a teacher, librarian, instructional media and technology administrator, cable executive and a retired city administrator.
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