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Keeping Health Records Safe

November 7, 2011, 6:12 PM by Casey Wonnenberg

Keeping Health Records Safe
SIOUX FALLS, SD - You probably don't think often about how your health records are stored. But if a natural disaster hit your doctor's office would your information be lost?

A man from tornado-stricken Joplin, Missouri, found out first hand the benefits of having electronic health records.

When the deadly tornado hit Joplin earlier this year, St. John's Regional Medical Center took a direct hit. It blew out windows and paper records were totally lost. Luckily, the center had just switched to electronic health records.

"If we hadn't had electronic health records, we would not have recovered our hospitals and our patient care at the rate that we were able to do that," Ron Forvargue, the Vice President of Technology for St. John's Regional Medical Center, said.

Forvargue spoke to a group in Sioux Falls Monday about the importance of electronic health records.

"We had patients that were in chemotherapy. If you don't know where they are in their chemo process, how do you know how to continue for the infusion? How do you know if they're on stage one, two, or three of a 12-stage process?" Forvargue said.

Despite his push for electronic health records, many health organizations still have records on paper. That's because it's a painful switch.

"When you think about moving, in some cases from a complete paper record to something electronic, it's a big transition. It's a change in the workflow of the physicians and the laboratories and everybody," Kevin DeWald, South Dakota's health information technology coordinator, said.

Still, Forvargue pushes providers to use electronic health records, not just in case of a natural disaster, but because it helps people access their important information everywhere.

"Most electronic health records have web portals. On that web portal you, as a parent, can track down your child's immunizations. Those forms that you fill out every year to get back into school, you can actually drop them off and print them because they're available," Forvargue said. "So it gives you flexibility that you've never had before, confidence that those records are secure and confidence as a caregiver that those records are always available for your use."

The Joplin tornado blew some X-rays and paper charts more than 70 miles away.

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