IT vendors push for open-standards health network

Eight large U.S. IT vendors have joined together in calling for open standards to be used in building a nationwide health information network proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The vendors, including Cisco Systems, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, have been working together in a group dubbed the Interoperability Consortium since August, said Dr. Jeffrey Rideout, Cisco's medical director and vice president of the Internet Business Solutions Group in Cisco's Healthcare Practice. The group formed in anticipation of a request for information about a national health information network, which was issued by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in November.

The health information network, advocated by President George Bush, could potentially tie together patient records, insurance claims, treatment plans and other data in digital form, replacing paper records. The Interoperability Consortium, in a 140-page document submitted to HHS Jan. 18, advocates open standards for such a network, lays out recommendations for the network's security and offers suggestions on a payment model that would induce health-care providers to participate in the network.

"Automation without interoperability would only result in multiplying technologically advanced information islands," says the consortium's report.

Cisco's Rideout called an open-standards based architecture "essential" for the network. A working health information network would not only benefit Cisco's business as a networking equipment provider, but would also improve the quality of health care for its 34,000 employees, Rideout said. Health care has been a "laggard" industry in using technology to increase quality of care and make workers more productive, he added.

"We never much want to see technology, especially networking and Internet-based technology, be used to help increase productivity," Rideout said. "Quite frankly, all of (Cisco's employees) are receiving that variable care. We're anxious to promote the very technologies this request for information is promoting."

Rideout said he isn't sure what will happen next with the consortium's ideas. The next steps depend on what Dr. David Brailer, the U.S. health information technology coordinator, decides to do with the recommendations his office received, Rideout said. Brailer's office didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

"Our hope is for ... a set of standards and efforts by the federal government that will complement private-sector innovation and adoption," Rideout said. "So that people, when they adopt electronic health records or other health information technologies, can do so with much more confidence and much less risk."

Other members of the consortium are Accenture, Computer Sciences, Hewlett-Packard and Intel.

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