Big Blue dives into health IT

IBM is building a test program that company officials hope will accelerate efforts to construct a national information network that would link consumers, hospitals and federal, state and local government agencies.

The standards-based Interoperable Health Information Infrastructure (IHII) will use a test bed that company officials expect to be fully operational by the end of this year. The infrastructure will connect IBM sites in San Jose, Calif.; Rochester, Minn.; and Haifa, Israel.

The aim of the test program is to use real code to implement emerging standards needed for such a national health care network, said James Kaufman, research manager for the health care project at IBM's Almaden Research Center. The tests will also create the components needed to convert existing data to those standards.

"The first thing we are learning is where the standards need to be modified to get them to work so information is flowing," he said. "Once we've done that, the most exciting thing about this project is that we are attempting to create in the lab today a model of what that future health care infrastructure will be."

IBM, which sees health care as a major technology market opportunity, is already working with Regional Health Information Organizations nationwide to enable the sharing of electronic health records locally within a region or state. The new IBM health care ecosystem will extend that interoperability nationally, Kaufman said.

Once that national system is in place, officials can measure how the availability of data can improve medicine and health care services, he said. The system will also facilitate a more personalized model in which individuals will have a much greater say in their care and treatment.

Specifically, it will boost actions such as electronic document transfer and messaging using IBM's Healthcare Collaborative Network technology. It will also support new simulation and analysis tools such as the company's Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler for studying emerging infectious diseases, which was released April 25.

For some agencies in government, which has been one of the major proponents of change in the health care system, this national, interoperable network will produce dramatic effects, Kaufman said.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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