HHS call for e-health records answered

Responding to the Health and Human Services Department's call for employers to promote health IT, several large companies announced today that they are collaborating to develop Web-based employee personal health records. They expect the records to become available next year.

Applied Materials Inc., BP America Inc., Intel Corp., Pitney Bowes Inc. and Wal-Mart are funding a nonprofit institute to develop Dossia, a Web-based framework through which U.S. employees, dependents and retirees can maintain lifelong personal health records. Together, the companies will provide this benefit to more than 2.5 million individuals.

The use of health IT based on recognized standards leads to better health care for patients at lower cost and with less hassle, said HHS secretary Mike Leavitt.

"The leadership of these companies in offering personal health records is encouraging, and I hope more employers will make similar commitments soon,' he said today in a statement.

'People will be able to more conveniently monitor their health, assure that they have appropriate health screening tests, take care of existing health conditions, and share their health information with health professionals to enhance the quality and consistency of health care they receive," said Julie Gerberding, director of HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Individuals will be able to maintain comprehensive and up-to-date health histories of themselves and their families, said J.D. Kleinke, CEO of the Omnimedix Institute, the nonprofit group in Portland, Ore., that is developing the system.

Dossia gathers health information on behalf of the individual from various sources and stores it within secured databases. Dossia's open architecture will support multiple personal health applications, which lets users organize and summarize their information in ways that are most useful to them.

Health records will be secure and private, accessible only by the individual or by others to whom they have granted permission. Records also will be portable, so individuals can use the records even if they change employers, health plans or doctors.

The Patient Privacy Rights Foundation in Austin, Texas, however, denounced the plan to store their employees' records in a centralized data warehouse linking hospitals, doctors and pharmacies.

'This is a prescription for disaster. Will these companies guarantee that employees' personal health information will never be used against them or disclosed without informed consent?' said Deborah Peel, founder and chairwoman of Patient Privacy Rights.
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Wal-Mart Stores plans to apply market pressure and incentives to get hospitals and doctors on board and will insist that health care providers adopt electronic records and prescribing as a condition of future business, she said.
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'Electronic health records are essentially a good idea. But American health consumers have said repeatedly that they do not want their employers or their insurers to have access to their records,' Peel said.

She recommended that a neutral third party, such as a health banking repository, should house patient data. Employees should control access to their own data.

Dossia is based on the Connecting for Health Common Framework, a set of design and policy standards established by a collaboration of consumer, physician, insurance, IT and privacy groups. The Markle and Robert Wood Johnson foundations fund Connecting for Health.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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