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10/7/2009
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Mobile App Puts EMRs On Smartphones

A Pennsylvania health insurer has deployed a smartphone app enabling members to view and share electronic medical records.

Blue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania is deploying smartphone apps to 5,000 to 10,000 patients, to help them carry their medical histories with them when going from one doctor to another.

While the Obama administration is leading a drive to standardize healthcare practitioners nationwide on a single format for electronic health records, that effort is just getting under way. For now, when patients go to multiple healthcare providers, it's likely that the practitioners won't be able to share medical records electronically.

That's where AllOne Mobile comes in. Blue Cross deployed the application to its members' cell phones, to allow the members to carry their health records with them. "I have five kids -- remembering their birthdays is a hassle for me, let alone their medications. We thought if we provided members with a tool that they can use to store information, they'd be able to share information with providers," said Drew Palin, chief development officer for Brlue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania, which has about 600,000 members in 13 counties.

Data stored on the smartphone is encrypted for security, and requires a password to access. The application generates a one-time password that has to match with a password on the server to unlock the app. Low-bandwidth data, such as immunization and allergy records, is stored on the client, more data-intensive information, such as X-Rays or scans, are stored on the server.

"Its a typical IT architecture where there's some information stored in the cloud that synchs up with information on the phone. It doesn't synch all the data on the phone," Palin said.

Blue Cross is working on connecting the app with Microsoft HealthVault, and other physician health record systems, to help make the information more portable. "We feel it's [the members'] personal information. They should have a right to access it, and they should have a right of that information to be portable," Palin said. If a members chooses another insurance provider, the member should be able to take that information with them.

AllOne Mobile runs the cloud component of the service, while Blue Cross feeds the cloud with updates of patient information, such as demographics, insurance records, pharmacy benefit information, and all the drugs the patient is taking. Eventually, Blue Cross hopes to be able to include diagnosis summaries, although they are still working on building translators to handle the data.

The app uses a secure communications channel to message patients with healthcare reminders, such as following up on appointments, and refilling meds.

Patients can fax information to a doctor's office right from the examination room, by having the smartphone application instruct the server to send a fax. The app can also send information using standard electronic medical record data formats.

Patients can also review their own medical records and make corrections -- for example, if the app lists them as taking a medication that they are, in fact, not taking.

The software runs on a wide variety of smartphones, including BlackBerry, iPhone, and 270 different handsets.

Can Blue Cross quantify the benefit from AllOne Mobile? "You don't know how badly I wish I can do that. I get these questions from our CFO all the time. Right now, the evidence for benefit is anecdotal," Palin said.

The expense is small -- Palin said the company pays less than $20 per year per patient for a bulk license; the retail subscription is $25. Blue Cross also had to invest a small amount of IT time to get the data connections set up, but once that's done the system runs automatically.

"If we decrease duplicate test rates by 1%, it pays for this," he said. "We will get ROI out of this, but it's a little bit early."

He added, "Information makes good decisions, and to get that out there, and to let the members control it -- that's fundamentally important."


InformationWeek and Dr. Dobb's have published an in-depth report on how Web application development is moving to online platforms. Download the report here (registration required).

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