Napster technology pays a visit to the doctor

Following in the footsteps of on-line music swapping firm Napster, it was clearly only a matter of time before the infamous peer-to-peer (p2p) technology spread like wildfire into different areas of mainstream life, according to one analyst.

Such a scenario has been illustrated by Philadelphia-headquartered CareScience, an on-line care management solution company that has developed and is testing one of the health care industry’s first p2p computing solutions. Called the Care Data Exchange, the solution securely locates and indexes clinical data from participating health care organizations using health information technology partners that are working with the program, according to the company.

Timathie Leslie, director of technology assessment for CareScience, said that the company is trying to ensure that the principles of data exchange – those that collect the data, such as physicians – are the only ones who act as the stewards of that data.

“(Physicians) will not be sending (data) to a large database that everybody shares,” Leslie said. “Instead, they are the stewards of their own data and decide who they want to share that data with, using p2p.”

Leslie noted that the solution is very complex, more complex than downloading music.

“There is a whole layer of security, authentication and authorization,” she said. “It tends to be a very sensitive issue. (With Care Data Exchange) you get to keep the data and authorize who will get to see it. It really gives that kind of power, control and support to those that are originating the data.”

Leslie said that health care institutions would have to build a small interface, which would allow them to Web-enable their databases to and connect them to the Care Data Exchange. Although the specifications are not yet finalized, Leslie said that institutions will likely have to download interfaces from CareScience’s Web site to ensure that information is mapped into the right data stream.

Though the idea of sharing personal medical files could have some patients up in arms, Dan McLean, research manager, network support and integration services for IDC Canada in Toronto, said that any application that offers instantaneous access to things like patient histories would likely be something that would be highly useful.

“I am sure that (CareScience) is not suggesting anybody can have access to that (information),” McLean said. “The privacy issue, in my mind, is sort of an onus on the people who are gathering the information. There is definitely a downside, but there is an upside as well. The real key to it is to ensure that it is a system that has a high degree of security attached to it so that the confidentiality issue isn’t a great concern.”

Leslie assured that CareScience has spent a lot of time ensuring all the safeguards are in place.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that this was the way to go,” Leslie said. “If you look at the different types of approaches of allowing information to be shared, this is the best that preserves the trust between the patient and the physician.”

Leslie said beta testing for Care Data Exchange is expected to be completed by August/September of this year. She said the solution is to be rolled out in the U.S. the first quarter of 2002, with possible expansion into Canada and other areas after that.

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