Industry collaboration viable with data connection push

June 1, 2005

Attitudes will change as more traditional companies invest in healthcare's secure, centralized databases.

NATIONAL REPORTS-In a renewed push toward data connection of all key stakeholders in the healthcare system, IBM will prototype a medical information exchange system to enable industry collaboration, as well as acquire consulting firm Healthlink Inc., which helps hospitals and clinics convert to electronic health records.

"The federal government is pushing connectivity and funding it through pay-for-performance and other initiatives," says Richard Stefanacci, DO, MBA, founding executive director of the Health Policy Institute, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. "Key stakeholders seem more willing to accept the change needed for success of these systems. Fortune 100 companies are entering this market, as well."

For example, Dr. Stefanacci cites General Electric's recent acquisition of MedicaLogic Corp.'s electronic health records software assets.

IHII will span IBM sites in San Jose, Calif., Rochester, Minn. and Haifa, Isreal, to replicate the type of national and international linkages "that would be necessary to implement a comprehensive, secure electronic healthcare ecosystem," Kaufman says.

Ultimately, those who share the data will be healthcare providers, patients who want to view their own data and receive services around that data (via portals, etc.), and researchers who want to improve outcomes (drug design, etc.).

"In order to test such an implementation, we need to run data through it in order to see if it will scale at realistic loads," Kaufman says. "Our plan is to run the equivalent of 200 million patient records and other data through our test bed. By using simulated data, we can stress test the system to see if it performs well. By creating a model system with model data, we can begin to develop the services of the future.

"This is a model of what healthcare IT will look like in a decade," he continues. "People are excited about how healthcare will be improved in the future. We want to give doctors a better understanding of the outcomes of the treatments that they use."

DIFFERENT DAY, SAME CHALLENGES According to Dr. Stefanacci, challenges will be similar to those facing the Internet boom in the '90s-funding, stakeholder acceptance and system integration. "The difference is that the army and soldiers are bigger, stronger, better-funded and more motivated for success," he says.

Security issues-also a byproduct of the '90s Internet boom-will need to be addressed, according to experts.

"We absolutely need to use technology to protect privacy and security," Kaufman says. "But as citizens, we need to decide what rules and regulations should be applied to that data. It is important that everything be standards-based so that in the world of the future, you control that data, and you can choose services and how you will use that data-as opposed to being a captive of an organization that holds that data."

IBM already is working with several regional health information organizations around the United States to enable the sharing of electronic medical records locally within a region or a state. "[IHII] is focused on defining and developing technology that will enable sharing of electronic health records across multiple regional health networks in an open-standards manner," Kaufman says.

Meanwhile, IBM's acquisition of Healthlink, "will enable IBM to help the [healthcare] industry meet its goals of optimizing patient care and driving operational efficiency," says Neil E. de Crescenzo, healthcare industry leader, global and Americas, for IBM business consulting services. Terms of the deal, announced in April, were not disclosed.