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Opportunities for Health Care Innovations in Post-Katrina Reconstruction

DECEMBER 20, 2005 -- Amid the unprecedented damage left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one of Tulane University's top doctors says she sees unique opportunities to test innovative approaches to health care.

"Never before has a city had the chance to completely rebuild its health care system without the usual barriers," said Karen DeSalvo, chief of general internal and geriatric medicine at Tulane University.

Health care infrastructure was the subject of the 46th Washington Primary Care Forum hosted by the Robert Graham Center of the American Academy of Family Physicians. The forum focused on the importance of primary care and technology in the reconstruction of health systems.

The health care system in the Gulf states was already strained before Hurricane Katrina led to the largest displacement of physicians in the U.S. history, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

"Our previous system produced the worst health outcomes in the country, despite the highest expenditures per capita," said DeSalvo.

She also said there is a broad agreement in the community that the rebuilding should emphasize ambulatory and primary care.

The reengineering of the health care systems is also likely to include a new focus on digital document management. The City of New Orleans Health Department in coordination with the Morehouse School of Medicine is launching a program to create electronic medical records for city residents. In a "Health Fair" in downtown New Orleans scheduled for February, city residents will be able to visit with primary care physicians and create a personal health record, "myHealthFile," in paper and electronic format. The hope is that electronic records will prevent loss of medical information and that patients will be able to access their records anywhere.

"We hope to build a model for other communities in other parts of the state and the country," said Dr. David Kibbe, director of the Center for Health Information Technology at the American Academy for Family Physicians and a consultant to the project.

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