Digital Health Records Move Closer To Reality

Service provider REDmedic offers online repository for digital health records.

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

October 5, 2004

3 Min Read

It's estimated that of the 14 million visits that Americans make to emergency rooms each year, millions of people end up being hospitalized because medical information such as prior hospitalizations, drug allergies, and heart conditions isn't available at the time patients are treated. But a new online service unveiled Monday by REDmedic Inc. aims to address that and other problems that occur due to the lack of patient information accessible to health-care providers, especially in emergency situations.

REDmedic is offering a new service, via an application-service-provider model, that lets consumers store and regularly update basic medical and emergency contact information about themselves or their family members online, so that information can be accessed during emergencies as well as in nonurgent situations such as changing doctors or providing schools with immunization records.

Even though the Bush administration has set the goal for most Americans to have electronic health records within 10 years, the reality is that right now fewer than 20% of hospitals have such systems. In April, President Bush created a new subcabinet post, a health IT "czar," to help push these national efforts along. Dr. David Brailer was appointed to the job of National Health Information Technology Coordinator in May and since then the number of regional, state, and private efforts to build interoperable health information exchanges is growing.

"The response our office has gotten is unprecedented, with support from the public and private sectors," says Brailer, who expects that the push toward digital health records for Americans will continue regardless of the outcome of November's presidential elections. "This is an issue that transcends political parties," Brailer says. "I'm awed and shocked by the level of support."

Until a national infrastructure is in place to allow the electronic sharing of diverse and comprehensive patient data, ranging from digitized images like X-rays and electro-cardiograms to clinical doctor notes, REDmedic hopes its service will fill a void by providing a summary of patients' most pertinent information. "The government is tackling these issues, but it's a monumental task," says REDmedic VP of marketing Ken Toren. Providing ER staffs with "some information is better than no information," he says.

With the REDmedic service, it's the consumers' responsibility to keep their information updated. However in the future, REDmedic hopes to expand its services capabilities so that hospitals can contribute data as well, such as information about member patient's surgeries or other inpatient care, says REDmedic VP of sales Scott Roeth.

The REDmedic service is priced at about $3 a month for consumers. The company plans to sell the service through employee-benefits administrators, health plans, health-care providers, and others. Members are provided with "an obnoxious yellow" card to carry in their wallets or a sticker to place on their drivers license or health-insurance card to inform emergency room workers that they are members of REDmedic. "One of the first things emergency workers do is look through a patient's wallet for ID," Toren says.

Hospitals that have Internet access in their emergency rooms can access the information online. However, emergency rooms that don't have Web access right now, which is the majority, Toren says, can request and obtain patients' REDmedic information via a call center or fax.

While Brailer won't comment on or endorse any specific health IT solution being developed or offered commercially, including REDmedic's service, he says it's a goal of his office for Americans to have access to their own medical data and for that information to be portable.

REDmedic isn't the first to launch a consumer-oriented online health information service. Duke University announced in March it was building a national health-data exchange in which consumers would provide their own medical information.

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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