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IBM Provides Its U.S. Workers With Digital Medical Records

IBM is giving 150,000 employees and their families access to E-health records, which they can share with doctors and other health-care providers. IBM views it as a business investment--a healthy employee with a healthy family is a more productive employee.
IBM is giving its 150,000 US employees and their dependents access to online tools, including electronic health records, to help them better manage their personal health.

In a memo issued to its U.S. employees on Wednesday, IBM said it is providing its workforce access to online tools that will allow individuals to take health risk assessments and create personalized electronic health records, including lists of medications, allergies, and medical histories. Initially, employees will create these records by entering in the information, but later the service will evolve so that patients' health records will get populated by data from other sources, such as their health plans, labs, and drug mail-order companies like MedCo, which provides prescription services and pharmacy benefit management companies to IBM employees.

These records will remain private--IBM will not have access to the personal records, although IBM already has access to "aggregate" employee claims data from its health-benefits providers, which IBM uses to analyze health-care costs and needs of its workers. However, employees will be able to provide this electronic information to their own doctors via E-mail or printouts.

"In essence, we're encouraging people to get familiar with and use online tools, try to get them engaged with health risk assessments and become educated consumers of healthcare," says Paul Grundy, M.D., IBM's medical director of global occupational health and well-being.

The move by IBM also fits into the nation's bigger push for widespread adoption of health IT, including electronic medical records. The Bush administration last year set out the goal for most Americans to have electronic health records by 2014.

IBM introduced the new service to employees as part of this year's open enrollment for health-care benefits. "It's that time of the year," says Harriet Pearson, IBM's VP, corporate affairs, and chief privacy officer. IBM employees will receive various financial incentives to take the health risk assessments. These new services expand on an existing IBM program, called "virtual fitness center," in which employee go online to keep track of their physical activities. Employees receive a cash rebate of $150 if they reach minimum levels of physical activity each year, says Grundy.

"As a general rule, we looks at this as an investment in the health and wellness of employees and [ultimately] an investment in their productivity," Grundy says.

The online risk assessment and electronic health records tools are provided to IBM employees via WebMD and Fidelity, which handles some of IBM's benefits administration services. IBM customized the services for its employees.

IBM has a number of large health-care customers--like the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinics--using its services and technologies to improve efficiencies and patient care. But now, IBM is taking its own medicine.