The use of information technology and open standards to allow the electronic flow of information within the health care industry is viewed as an essential step in reducing costs and improving quality. Experts estimate that the move to electronic medical records could cut 10 percent or more from the $1,7 trillion spent on health care annually in the United States alone.
"Improving health care through the flow of electronic medical information is a national priority", stated Neil E. de Crescenzo, IBM BCS health care industry leader. "Our goal is to facilitate improvement in health care from the inside out, which will require the collaborative efforts of health care providers, insurers, technology companies and other players in the industry. With the IHII, we're establishing an On Demand environment in which technical issues can be resolved in just such an open, collaborative way."
IBM is already working with several Regional Health Information Organisations around the United States to enable the sharing of electronic medical records locally within a region or state. This new IBM initiative is focused on defining and developing technology that will enable sharing of electronic health records across multiple regional health networks in an open standards manner.
The ability to share health information could make possible new services for consumers, researchers and practitioners. Beyond lowering costs and improving quality of health care, the electronic storage of medical data will allow public health officials to more easily analyse that data to identify emerging health trends. In addition to support for electronic documents and messaging using IBM's Health care Collaborative Network technology, IHII includes support for such simulation and analysis tools. One such new tool, the Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeller (STEM), focuses on studying emerging infectious diseases.
STEM provides scientists and public health officials with a powerful tool for understanding and planning more efficient responses to the spread of infectious diseases. Invented at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, STEM facilitates the creation of advanced mathematical models involving multiple populations and interactions between diseases to promote better understanding of epidemiology and to provide new tools for protecting population health.
IBM designed STEM as a base upon which software developers and researchers can build other useful applications. IBM is making the prototype code available on alphaWorks, its early-release Web site, to allow developers to explore its potential and provide guidance for its further development. IBM is also collaborating with leading universities and other institutions to evolve this technology, using STEM to run multiple computer simulations based on real-world situations to identify and create the best policy, treatment and prevention options in the event of an epidemic.
Today, IBM described its plans for use of the IHII system and new economic models that might accelerate the deployment of such a system before a gathering of industry leaders across health care, finance, academia and government at IBM's Almaden Research Center as part of a series of discussions studying the issue of a national health information infrastructure.
IBM expects to engage with industry leaders on its IHII initiative as an expansion of work it already has underway to enable interoperability in health care. The findings of IBM's first Global Innovation Outlook, a worldwide dialogue around the changing nature of innovation and the areas in which it might generate the greatest economic and societal benefits, identified the health care ecosystem as one of the three areas that will be most impacted by the changing nature of innovation. More IBM news can be found in the VMW April 2005 article IBM launches software to help hospitals and government health care agencies identify and manage medical challenges.