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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Only Veteran Medical Records Safe from Flood Waters (VA's Computerized Patient Record System)

September 13, 2005

VA's Computerized Patient Record System saves critical medical records so patients' health care does not suffer.

HOUSTON - The majority of the one million people displaced by Hurricane Katrina now have no medical records, making it difficult for clinicians working in disaster medical centers and community hospitals to treat them. Not so with the more than 38,000 veterans throughout southeast Louisiana, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle who received their health care at the New Orleans VA Medical Center. 

Due to VA's progressive Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS) and the quick work of VA's information officers, all patient records, prescriptions, and laboratory and radiology results on every New Orleans VA patient are now available at any VA medical center and by any VA physician nationwide.

Because VA uses CPRS, all patient records at the New Orleans VA were backed-up, secured, transported to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) in Houston and were back on-line and available by Friday, Sept. 2.

“It took VA less than three days to have every single New Orleans patient database file backed up and transported to our VA facility,” said Frank Vazquez, chief information officer, MEDVAMC.  “By the time the levees broke, I decided that VA needed to have a location to send the back up tapes and make this critical patient care data available. Luckily, at our facility, we had the excess server and storage capacity, so my staff and I worked around the clock to prepare for the tapes and restore the data.”

The first set of tapes filled with New Orleans patient data were first driven to Alexandria, La. and then delivered to Houston at 1 p.m. on Sept. 2. By 8 p.m. that evening, all New Orleans VA patient data was online and ready to be viewed by any VA physician throughout the country. And this was critical, given that over 240 patients from the New Orleans VA were transported to different VA medical centers in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Little Rock, Alexandria, La., Shreveport, and Jackson, Ms. by Sept. 2.

“A second set of data tapes was brought to our facility on Sept. 5. These tapes included clinical information taken from the Baton Rouge VA clinic, where a large number of VA patients from the New Orleans area were seen on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2,” said Vazquez.  “In just a few short days from when the initial first set of tapes was driven to Houston, this second set of tapes already had 900 progress notes, 800 prescriptions written, and over 2,000 outpatient clinic orders.”

With a disaster of this magnitude, many New Orleans residents will be without their patient records forever because paper medical records were lost or destroyed in the disaster.  “It took the VA about 100 hours to transfer electronic health records for its all patients in the South, while it will take thousands of hours for the private sector to reconstitute paper medical records,” said Francois de Brantes, the health care initiatives program leader for General Electric’s Corporate Health Care and Medical Services.

The VA’s CPRS system certainly paid off during this crisis situation, allowing New Orleans area veterans an opportunity to obtain immediate and uninterrupted quality health care at any VA medical center around the country.

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