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Health records safe despite Oklahoma tornado


By Joseph Conn
Posted: May 21, 2013 - 12:15 pm ET
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An early report on Monday's tragedy in Oklahoma points to just how far this nation has come in a short time on health information exchange.

The scouring winds of the massive tornado that struck Moore, Okla., a southern suburb of Oklahoma City, tore off part of the roof of Moore Medical Center a satellite of the Norman Regional Health System.

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It brought back memories of the tornado that two years ago this month devastated Joplin, Mo., destroying St. John's Regional Medical Center there, and the 2005 mass evacuation of New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. Both disasters were compounded by losses of paper-based medical records. (A notable exception in the aftermath of Katrina were the records of patients at the local Veterans Affairs hospital, which were electronically copied and preserved.)

But many of the essential elements of patient records for more than 2 million people have been backed up by the regional health information organization serving Oklahoma City and stored in a Cerner Corp. data warehouse “buried in the side of a large, manufactured hill in Kansas City,” according to Joanna Walkingstick, director of member services for the RHIO, called SMRTnet.

Evacuating patients from the hospital in Moore was a problem, but wrangling its patients' records, won't be.

“They've been a SMRTnet member for five, going on six years,” Walkingstick said. “We save essentially a near copy of their database.”

Records stored by the exchange include patient demographics, visits, procedures, lab results, vital signs, histories and physicals, discharge summaries, discharge medications and radiology reports. The 7-year-old exchange has among its members 26 hospitals, 99 clinics and 2,500 users. The exchange claims 1,400 registered provider users and 2.4 million patients' records.

Around 7 p.m. CT Monday, the earliest damage reports were just coming in.

“From what I'm seeing on the evening news right now, they have the fatality count at four and the casualties were undetermined, which is not a good sign,” she said. “I'm sure that trend will increase through tomorrow as their injuries do not improve and the adrenalin wears off, we'll probably see a higher presentation to ER.”

As might be expected, there had been a spike above normally moderate Monday network traffic at the RHIO, but nothing unmanageable. Walkingstick said she expects increased usage to continue for a while. “So far, our typical usage is 10% to 15% higher from a typical Monday. Our system scales very, very well.”

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn


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