Government Awards $18.6 Million to Share Health Information

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded four contracts to consortia that will figure out how doctors at different health care sites can share medical information. The four consortia are made of technology vendors and local healthcare groups.

For the past 15 years, most health IT efforts were framed within a single institution; now, emphasis is shifting to moving information across institutions, said Scott Myers, of Accenture, which is leading one of the consortia. The others are led by Computer Science Corporation (CSC), IBM Corp. and Northrop Grumman.

The consortia have a year to come up with a network architecture and prototype network so that medical data can be shared securely between hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies and physicians.

The goal is that future IT efforts will build off of each consortium’s best ideas. “We’re not trying to pick winners and losers, but pick a starter-set and help us learn what we can do to make this work,” said health IT czar David Brailer. The architecture design for the networks will go into the public domain to stimulate further ideas.

But a survey released on Wednesday by the California Healthcare Foundation concluded that patients’ were worried about the security of their personal health information. “Without strong safeguards, reliable privacy protection, and vigilant enforcement of privacy laws, public support for the national effort to develop a health care network could be in jeopardy,” the study states.

About 13 percent of patients have asked doctors to fudge a diagnosis, paid for a test out-of-pocket to avoid an insurance claim, or avoided treatment by their regular doctor. Chronically ill and younger patients as well as members of ethnic minorities are more likely to engage in these so-called “privacy-protection” behaviors.

However, most patients are willing to share information that can be used to keep them healthy, and the consortia are charged with finding ways to keep information secure. Another consortia established by RTI and the National Governor’s Association is working to clarify national and state privacy policies.

Brailer said that there were “scores and scores” of applicants for the four contracts. Though the $18.6 million awarded is tiny compared to the nation’s $1.7 trillion annual spending on health care, Brailer said that the funds would “jump-start” the market for interoperable health IT. Once started, said Brailer, the health IT market should not require a steady infusion of government funds.

About 150 RHIOs (regional health information organizations) have already formed to figure out how a patients’ health information could follow him from, say, an outpatient clinic, to a hospital, and to a nursing home within the same community. However, viable business models for RHIOs are still being worked out. Several RHIOs belong to the consortia.

Privacy advocacy groups circulate a petition to bar employers from viewing patients’ health information and giving patients control over who can see what medical information. Click here to read more.

Myers said that the money would help consortia demonstrate “proof of business and technology principles” that information technology will make health care more effective and efficient: “The seed money to help resolve the technical and nontechnical barriers to prove the barrier of health information organizations, so that other organizations will feel more confident taking this up.”

The prototypes must demonstrate patient identification and information locator services; user authentication, access control and other security protections and specialized network functions; and the feasibility of large-scale deployment. Each consortia must also show that it can exchange information with the other three.

The consortia are expected to work together as well as with three other consortia charged with resolving nationwide issues to sharing health information. Last month, the government awarded $17.5 million to the Health Information Technology Standards Panel, the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, and the Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration.

The four Nationwide Health Information Network Consortia consist of the following organizations:

  • Accenture, working with Apelon, Cisco, CGI-AMS, Creative Computing Solutions, eTech Security Pro, Intellithought, Lucent Glow, Oakland Consulting Group, Oracle, and Quovadx. This group will work with the following health market areas: Eastern Kentucky Regional Health Community (Kentucky); CareSpark (Tennessee); and West Virginia eHealth Initiative (West Virginia).
  • CSC, working with Browsersoft, Business Networks International, Center for Information Technology Leadership, Connecting for Health, DB Consulting Group, eHealth Initiative, Electronic Health Record Vendors Association, Microsoft, Regenstrief Institute, SiloSmashers, and Sun Microsystems. This group will work with the following health market areas: Indiana Health Information Exchange (Indiana); MA-SHARE (Massachusetts); and Mendocino HRE (California).
  • IBM, working with Argosy, Business Innovation, Cisco, HMS Technologies, IDL Solutions, Ingenium, and VICCS. This group will work with the following health market areas: Taconic Health Information Network and Community (New York); North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance (Research Triangle, North Carolina); and North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance (Rockingham County, North Carolina).
  • Northrop Grumman, working with Air Commander, Axolotl, Client/Server Software Solutions, First Consulting Group, SphereCom Enterprises, and WebMD. This group will work with the following health market areas: Santa Cruz RHIO (Santa Cruz, California); and HealthBridge (Cincinnati, Ohio); University Hospitals Health System (Cleveland, Ohio).

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