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1/22/2008
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Wal-Mart Is Piloting E-Health Record System

A small number of employees have been given secure access to digitized information -- such as prescription drug records, lab results, and more -- about their own personal health.

Wal-Mart has begun rolling out personal electronic health records to a handful of employees as part of a plan to eventually provide more than a million of the retailer's workers and their dependents with digitized health records.

The rollout by Wal-Mart is part of a larger project announced more than a year ago by Dossia, a coalition that includes Wal-Mart and several other large employers, including Intel, British Petroleum, Pitney Bowes, Cardinal Health, Applied Materials, AT&T, and Sanofi-Aventis.

Dossia is partnering with Children's Hospital Boston in developing the e-health system, which is based on Indivo, a scalable, secure, open-source personal health record system that Children's Hospital built in 1998 for its patients.

By offering employees secure access to digitized information -- such as prescription drug records, lab results, and more -- about their own personal health, Dossia member companies like Wal-Mart hope workers and their dependents will be better prepared in making health care decisions, as well as become more proactive in participating in wellness and preventative care programs.

Keeping employees healthier can help rein in health care costs not only for individual companies, but can help make an impact nationally, said Wal-Mart Linda Dillman, Wal-Mart executive VP of benefits and risk management, who was also formerly Wal-Mart's CIO.

"We believe so strongly in this," she said. By helping people to become more proactive about their health care, they are less likely to wait for a serious medical crisis before getting care, she said.

With this in mind, Wal-Mart also is on a mission to increase the number of employees and their dependents who have health insurance coverage.

During a teleconference on Tuesday, Dillman said that during Wal-Mart's open enrollment process for benefits last fall, more than 30,000 employees signed up for Wal-Mart health coverage for the first time, decreasing the number of uninsured workers by 20%.

More than 1.1 million Wal-Mart workers and dependents are now covered by Wal-Mart health plans. The percentage of Wal-Mart workers who are uninsured fell to 7.3% from 9.6% over the last year, she said. And while Wal-Mart is now providing health care benefits to more workers, the company's health care costs aren't rising as fast as they are at many other employers, she said. "Our increase will be less than 10%," which is less than the "double-digit" national trend, she said.

"Getting more and more people care" before they are seriously ill -- and have more expensive medical conditions -- have been key in getting better control over health costs, she said.

And by providing Wal-Mart workers with e-health records, the company "believes" employees will be more "engaged in their own healthcare" and better equipped to make "good decisions" regarding their health, said Dillman.

"I'm a pilot user, and am giving it a hard workout," Dillman said of the Dossia e-health record system. Dillman said she is "pleased with the progress," of the pilot.

In addition to the "beta group of about 20" Wal-Mart employees testing the Dossia e-health records, "every founder" company of Dossia is also piloting the system, Dillman said.

For Dossia member companies, the rollout is good news after a rocky start. Before partnering with Children's Hospital Boston last fall, Dossia's development relationship soured with its original prime contractor, Omnimedix, after only a few months when both parties went to court with complaints about missed project deadlines and missed payments.

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