Development begins on standards for emergency resource tracking

ComCare Alliance?a national coalition of public safety, medical and industry executives that promotes interoperable standards for emergency communications?is working with Virginia hospitals to develop common standards for post-disaster patient tracking IT systems.

The need for post-disaster patient tracking IT systems has received increased attention since Hurricane Katrina. The systems would provide a central repository of information on patient evacuees that would specify where the patients were relocated, under whose supervision, in what condition, and what medicines and treatments have been provided to the patient under emergency conditions.

ComCare and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, composed of 62 member hospitals, have initiated a working group to develop a national set of common requirements for such systems. The group is looking at critical goals for patient tracking systems and examining privacy and legal issues as well. Several dozen entities, including the American Red Cross, academic institutions and health care associations, also are participating.

"Patient tracking is an exciting topic because it links two of the nation's most important medical efforts: homeland security and patient healthcare information technology," Dr. Robert Bass, ComCare board member, and president of the National Association of State EMS Directors, said in a press release. "The challenge for our group is to develop requirements for systems that are used to improve every day emergency response, but can easily be scaled up to support mass casualty incidents."

Members of the working group include experts from government agencies representing emergency management, emergency medical services, fire, hospitals, public health, 911 call centers and private industry.

One of the topics under discussion is protection of patient privacy. However, working group member Dr. William Braithwaite, chief medical officer of the eHealth Initiative, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group for IT systems for health care, predicts privacy issues won't be an obstacle to creating patient tracking systems.

"While privacy and security must be a key component of all integrated patient tracking systems, the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 should not be seen as a roadblock to exchange patient information between healthcare providers? particularly in emergencies," Braithwaite said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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