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12/8/2006
02:35 PM
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Companies Unveil Data Pool To Assault Health Care Costs

The goal is to reduce medical errors, show employees how to lead healthier lives, and, eventually, provide comparative information on suppliers.



Swamped by soaring health care costs, some of the nation's biggest and most influential companies are banding together to do something about them. But Wal-Mart, Intel, and the other principals aren't just sticking their toes in. They're creating an online personal medical record service, called Dossia, that they hope will become an integral part of the nation's health care infrastructure when it's rolled out to employees in mid-2007.

Intel chairman Craig Barrett and partners have big ambitions for Dossia, designed and operated by Omnimedix Institute, a nonprofit funded by consortium members. "Think of it as American industry getting involved in health care," Barrett said during a news conference in Washington last week. "The system has to change. It has to become more efficient."

As reported by InformationWeek last week, the multimillion-dollar initiative will at its core give employees of member companies online access to their personal health histories. The hope is that Dossia will reduce medical errors, show employees how to lead healthier lives, and cut employers' health care costs in the process. Eventually, the system could provide comparative information on care providers.

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Dossia will comprise between five and seven databases located around the country, each separated by role--one for lab results, another claims data, etc.--so that all of an individual's records couldn't be accessed if the system is compromised. Once an employee enters personal information, the system will automatically supplement the data with records from outside sources such as hospitals, insurers, and medical practices. The data will then be organized so individuals can, for instance, gather summaries of health information for doctor and emergency room visits, assemble their immunization histories, use disease management applications, and chart past test results. Employees can even sync their data with mobile devices.

An API will let third-party companies certified by Omnimedix plug in additional data or create applications that provide more relevant analysis. "What we're trying to do is make it easier for them to build something that they can build their competitive product on," says Linda Dillman, Wal-Mart's executive VP and former CIO.

Besides Intel and Wal-Mart, consortium members include Applied Materials, British Petroleum, and Pitney Bowes. Those five companies alone represent 2.5 million employees, and the group plans to announce more partners, perhaps even state governments, in February. "Right now, there is no personal medical information highway, only private toll roads," Omnimedix CEO J.D. Kleinke says. "Our goal is to build the equivalent of a highly secure, highly specialized medical internet."

However, plenty of companies, including Cisco Systems and IBM, are developing their own electronic health record systems and/or tapping into medical information products from the likes of WebMD, Medem, and McKesson.

Neither employers nor insurers will have access to the Dossia e-records, according to the companies involved. Employees will opt in and can decide if, how much, and with whom they want to share their data. For example, an individual may choose not to share a diagnosis for depression when visiting a specialist for an unrelated illness. Kleinke estimates that half of the work for the project will go into security, authentication, and identity management.

What happens to the records when participants retire, quit, or get fired from a member company? Once you opt in, you're in, says Colin Evans, a director for Intel's digital health group.

Omnimedix is designing Dossia on a set of standards called the Connecting for Health Common Framework and has support from consumer, government, and health care groups. But it's not a slam dunk. Insurers don't have much motivation to share data, the many doctors who haven't adopted e-records would have to scan data into the system, patients are concerned about privacy, and employers may not be ready to sign up. Then again, nobody said it would be easy to fix the health care system.

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