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12/6/2006
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Wal-Mart, Intel, Others To Create Massive Health Records Database

The companies launch a joint effort to build databases to allow their 2.5 million employees to access their personal health records over the Web, starting sometime next year.

Spiking healthcare costs are forcing employers to look for new ways to keep their employees healthy, and now a consortium of companies has come together to do something about it. Several major companies announced today a joint effort to begin building federated databases to allow their 2.5 million employees to access their personal health records over the Web, starting sometime next year.

The consortium, which currently includes Applied Materials, BP, Intel, Pitney Bowes, and Wal-Mart, calls its healthcare records system Dossia. The employers say the net result of the system will be lower costs for employers and better health care for individuals.

"Employers pay about half the bills," Intel chairman Craig Barrett said in a press conference announcing the program. "We've been AWOL in this discussion and it's impacting our competitiveness." He says Dossia could hold healthcare cost increases, which today outpace inflation by wide margins, to just about the rate of inflation.

Dossia will have at its core a series of federated databases being developed by a member-company funded non-profit organization called the Omnimedix Institute. To begin with, Omnimedix will build between five and seven databases around the country. Once an employees joins the system and enters some personal information, the system will automatically supplement the data with records from outside sources like hospitals, insurance claims, and physicians, so one database would house insurance claims data, another lab results and so on. Once the databases are built, the cost of adding incremental patients is expected to be pennies.

J.D. Kleinke, chairman and CEO of Omnimedix, sees the system as a means to bring together disparate medical information systems that are out there today. " Right now there is no personal medical information highway, only private tollroads," he said. "Our goal is to build the equivalent of a highly secure, highly specialized medical internet."

The data will then come together to give patients the ability to see organized, pre-defined reports on their health, like summaries of health information to take to doctor and emergency room visits, immunization histories, disease management applications, and graphical representations of test results.

Employees can also sync their data with mobile devices. An open API will allow companies that want to provide added services to plug into the data. However, to use the data, partners will have to be certified by Omnimedix as a secure partner.

The employers say security was one of the major concerns of this project, and say they will have no access to the records. Employees will opt-in to the system and can decide if, how, and with whom they want to share any of their personal health data. For example, an individual may choose not to share a diagnosis for depression when going to visit to a new specialist for an unrelated illness. Omnimedix' Kleinke estimates 50% of all the work for the project will go into security, authentication, and identity management.

Another concern for employees would be what happens to the records when they retire, quit, or get fired from one of the member companies. Colin Evans, the director of policy and standards for Intel's digital health group, says that even then, the data stays alive. Once you're in, you're in.

It's not only employers who are psyched about Dossia. The project has also garnered support from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Consumers League, and the American Association of Family Physicians. Though Dossia information won't be shared on a granular basis, the CDC may be able to do highly aggregated research on some of the data on a nationwide basis for disease prevention purposes.

Wal-Mart EVP Linda Dillman calls Dossia a "godsend." She says it will create better health care, make employees healthier, and drive IT standards for the healthcare industry. "Hopefully we can bring some influence and serve as a catalyst to bring other members on board," she says, noting Wal-Mart's experience with large IT projects dealing with big volumes of data.

Additional member companies will be announced in February, and the Dossia founders say they hope the system will eventually expand to include many more companies and government employers. John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said he thinks every employer in the country should be involved in the discussion of how to leverage IT to manage health. "We hope to be the marketing arm for Dossia," he said.

Though Omnimedix's Kleinke says he expects all major companies to jump on eventually, it may be a long road, with influential tech companies like Cisco not yet signing on and others like IBM and Dell developing their own systems.

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