By Nadine Robin

Imagine: you’re all alone and in a terrible car accident. An ambulance takes you to the nearest emergency room where the doctors need to know about your medical history and allergies before they can treat you. You’re unconscious, and you can’t provide that information yourself.

The Louisiana Health Information Exchange (LaHIE) is designed to help in situations like this.

In the past, physicians shared your health information by telephone, fax, mail, email or even messenger services, but these processes take time and ma
y not give your health care provider a clear record of your medical history when it’s most needed. As Louisiana’s ‘super highway’ for health information exchange, LaHIE is striving to change that by leading the state into a modern era of health information technology (IT) while simultaneously improving health care delivery and reducing costs for residents.

LaHIE is Louisiana’s only statewide health information exchange. Unveiled in November 2011, the exchange now has participation agreements with more than 170 hospitals, clinics, providers, specialists, school-based health centers and other health care companies across the state. Its footprint currently includes almost every parish in Louisiana.

LaHIE enables enrolled health care professionals to electronically and securely share your health information in real time by providing them with access to your electronic health record (EHR), which may include your medical history, allergies, prescriptions, specialist visits, lab results and more. Having this information available through LaHIE helps to ensure that authorized health care providers can access your information when it’s most needed, regardless of where you’re located.

In addition, as a central location through which your health information can be electronically accessed, LaHIE significantly reduces the likelihood that your medical records will be lost, stolen or damaged. We’ve all been to our doctors’ offices and seen the endless rows of paper medical charts stored on shelves behind the receptionists’ desks, and we know our doctors do all they can to ensure that unauthorized personnel don’t have access to those charts.

But think about it: which sounds more secure – having your medical records in a folder on a shelf or having them electronically-stored, password-protected and encrypted to prevent unauthorized people from reading them?

The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it?

But LaHIE offers something else, something that Louisiana residents who endured Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 will certainly appreciate: protection for our medical records from disasters.

As most Louisianans can recall, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck our state in 2005, thousands of residents in our coastal regions were evacuated to other areas, many of them in need of medical treatment for injuries sustained in the storms or for chronic conditions. Because our state’s health care system relied largely on paper medical records at that time, many of those residents were left without access to their own medical histories. LaHIE helps to ensure that if our state faces another disaster of Katrina-like proportions, residents’ medical records will be safe and accessible, no matter where they are.

Ultimately, LaHIE is designed to improve the quality of health care delivery for the residents of Louisiana. Its continued growth and expansion represent important investments in individual and overall health, and these investments will continue to benefit our state for generations to come.