IBM brings Electronic Medical Records one step closer through open technology

San Jose 10 August 2006IBM has taken a major step in the drive toward a national electronic medical records system by contributing software technology that supports the exchange of health care information to the open source community. The software, contributed to the Eclipse Foundation's Open Healthcare Framework (OHF) project, provides a mechanism to connect isolated "islands" of information that today reside throughout the health care system to any Health Information Exchange (HIE).


Software developers will also be able to build applications that can aggregate and sift through this information to improve health care delivery and research while protecting individual privacy.

According to the Center for Information Technology Leadership, systems that enable standardized information exchange are by far the best investment for the United States as a whole, with net savings that likely represent 5 percent of current United States health care expenditures. Such capabilities stand to enable more accurate, timely diagnoses that could markedly improve treatments.

OHF, one of the efforts to deliver an open source, standards-based platform for health care software, has close ties to leading health care standards organisations. Any Independent Software Vendor (ISV) will be able to use the tools in OHF to connect their applications to any standards-based infrastructure, including IBM's HIE.

IBM Research has also established new Healthcare and Life Sciences Innovation Centers spanning its Almaden, Watson, Haifa and Zurich Research Labs. These centres provide a focal point for collaborative work with health care clients and qualified IBM Business Partners in the application of key IBM Research expertise and technologies in this field.

"One of the more significant challenges in creating a national interoperable electronic health care information infrastructure is the ability to access disparate health records stored in proprietary medical IT systems", stated Dan Pelino, general manager, IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry. "By making the client side components of our HIE technology available through OHF, we hope to help solve this problem by providing an easy and affordable way for ISVs to connect their applications to any HIE, where medical data can be accessed and integrated as if stored in a single repository. As a result of this patient-centric systems approach, clinicians will be able to access health records from virtually any medical IT system, regardless of where the information resides."

IBM Research launched the Interoperable Healthcare Information Infrastructure, or IHII project, in 2005 with a prototype health information exchange platform capable of supporting local, regional and national health care organisations. The platform, which implements important interoperability standards, includes advanced data management algorithms and data mining techniques developed by IBM scientists. It enables doctors to access and view a patient's electronic medical records even if those records originate in disparate systems. The IHII project is validating software code components required to instantiate a HIE that conforms to IBM's Health Information Framework, a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach to connecting the health care and life sciences ecosystem.

IBM has since validated open, standards-based health care interoperability with more than 20 ISVs, including Blueware, CapMed, Mandriva, PossibilityForge, SynSeer and WellLogic, as well as its ability to provide the client side interfaces for application vendors. With this contribution to the Eclipse open source community, software developers can now begin building open standards-based applications that tap the technology to help doctors, labs and hospitals adopt electronic medical records.

"The features in OHF will enable a new ecosystem to develop in the health care industry", stated Grahame Grieve, project leader, Eclipse OHF project. "The availability of a lightweight, open source framework will allow eHealth Record (eHR) vendors and other open source eHR efforts to build and test standards-based solutions for interoperability, enabling small and medium clinics and hospitals to participate in the market with large health care enterprises."

The ability to share health information could create new services for consumers, researchers and practitioners. Beyond lowering costs and improving quality of health care, the electronic storage of medical data may also allow public health officials to more easily analyse that data to identify emerging health trends.

Demonstrating its commitment to fostering innovation in the health care and life sciences industries, IBM announced in March 2006 that it will open access for its Business Partners to one of its most valuable assets - intellectual capital created by the scientists and engineers in its world-class Research division.

As part of that initiative, qualified Business Partners in the health care industry can collaborate with IBM's researchers and industry experts through the Innovation Centers at the Almaden and Haifa labs to deliver more innovative solutions to a broader range of clients, in both SMB and large enterprise markets. Additionally, Business Partners in the life sciences industry can collaborate with IBM researchers in the field of computational biology at the Innovation Centers at the Almaden, T.J. Watson and Zurich labs.

IBM offers this resource to qualified partners through the PartnerWorld Industry Networks, a set of industry-tailored offerings designed to help business partners develop, market and sell solutions that meet their customers' requirements. Business Partners will be able to access research and analysis never before published externally and will also be eligible for consultations with any of IBM's community of over 3000 research engineers and scientists, offering for the first time ever the opportunity for IBM Research and IBM Business Partners to collaborate on delivering new solutions to the marketplace. More company news can be found in the VMW August 2006 article Catalonian Healthcare chooses IBM for 20 million euro transformation project.

Leslie Versweyveld

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