By Cindy Munn -

Our nation and state stand on the threshold of dynamic improvements in health care. Through advancements in health information technology, true health care reform is within our reach, but not without system-wide adoption of electronic health records and health information exchange.

In support of National Health IT Week, observed Sept. 16-20, the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum, a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing health IT in our state, seeks to provide residents with information about the value and benefits of this technology, or more specifically, what the increased use of EHRs and HIEs could mean for patients.  An EHR is an electronic version of the paper charts kept by our doctors. It may include clinical information such as medical histories, lab results, radiology reports, medications, allergies and notes that may help our doctors diagnose and treat us. Unlike paper records, which can be lost, stolen or damaged, EHRs are designed so that only authorized providers who are actively participating in our care can access our information, and only from an authorized location.

In our state, we can consent to having our EHRs shared through the Louisiana Health Information Exchange (LaHIE), a secure electronic system designed to ensure that our EHRs move with us as we seek care from enrolled providers at authorized locations. Having this information available through LaHIE has many benefits. We may not have to fill out the same forms over and over at doctors’ offices because that information will already be in the system. We may not have to undergo repetitive medical procedures and tests because the results of those tests will be included in our health information. If there is a public emergency like a hurricane, LaHIE helps ensure that our EHRs are safe and that enrolled health care providers can access them from any authorized location.

As the State-Designated Entity for health IT advancements in Louisiana, the Quality Forum is bringing these benefits to fruition for the residents of our state. Our Regional Extension Center, the Louisiana Health Information Technology Resource Center, is now working with more than 2,000 health care providers in the adoption and implementation of EHRs. In addition, LaHIE now has participation agreements with more than 170 hospitals, providers, school-based health centers, home health agencies and other health care companies across Louisiana.

By providing our state with a strong health IT infrastructure, we are well-positioned to overcome our long-held rankings as among the highest in per capita costs and the lowest in clinical quality and health outcomes. We encourage our fellow residents to visit with their doctors about EHRs and LaHIE. We have the right to demand a higher quality of care, and through health IT, we can receive it.