"I was able to communicate with other providers from all over the U.S. I had people calling me from Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, saying we have one of your patients here," Lawson said. "I was able to get the documents from my Palm Pilot, download them, print the entire H&P (history and physical), all of their lab work, anything they wanted."
She also served as a missing persons locator.
"One family called me for three weeks straight, desperately looking for a relative, a hospice patient," Lawson recounted. "During the fourth week, a hospice agency in Indiana called to say they had the patient and did I have any of his recent records."
Lawson did. She downloaded the records and faxed them, then called the family.
"They thought he was dead until the hospice agency called," Lawson said.
Since then, Lawson has adopted a formal electronic medical records system, MediNotes, and her practice has quadrupled to more than 400 patients.
Instead of the trusty Palm Pilot, on home visits she takes a tablet with detachable keyboard with her to download patients' information and to provide reminders about flu shots and other needed services.
"She brings the computer thing in here and puts all the information on it," said Brenda Carter, 65, a client who was trapped for two days on her roof in the lower Ninth Ward during Katrina. "I think that's better than paper."
Visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine for more on personal medical records.
SOURCES: Scharmaine Lawson, nurse practitioner, and CEO, Advanced Clinical Consultants, New Orleans; Jay Brooks, M.D., chairman of hematology/oncology, Ochsner Health Service, Baton Rouge, La.; Brenda D. Carter, Harvey, La.