Vendor EHR networks get prime time debut

Four vendors on Tuesday demonstrated electronic health records (EHR) and showed off their prototypes to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ American Health Information Community (AHIC) advisory board.

In one of the first steps toward making the records widely available in the U.S., the groups developing EHR networks, led by IBM Corp., also included Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), Accenture Ltd. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

The groups demonstrated a way for a fictional patent to update her e-health record after moving to another state, to import data from a hospital discharge summary and a pharmacy record, and to give a new doctor permission to view her records. The demonstrations worked without significant hiccups, with the networks downloading and updating information with a couple of mouse clicks.

Each of the four groups has developed its own e-health record prototype, with each having slightly different features. For example, the Accenture model stores the data regionally as a way to compare demographic trends, and the IBM prototype doesn’t store patient data in a centralized location, instead leaving it in the hands of patients and local health-care providers.

“Providers get very nervous when you say information is not going to continue to be contained in their offices,” said Ginny Wagner, nationwide health information network coordinator for IBM. “Patients get very nervous when they think about their health-care information being held in a data repository.”

The electronic health records allow doctors to get information on a new patient before seeing the patient in an office or hospital, Wagner said. The e-health records will also allow doctors to check home health monitoring devices, she said. IBM’s prototype is being tested in seven hospitals in North Carolina, Virginia and New York.

The IBM model uses open standards, allowing health-care providers to choose hardware and software providers to support the e-health records, she added. “We did not feel the health-care market could afford to eliminate equipment or systems that they had already put in place, so we have to connect to what was there,” she said.

The CSC group featured a health record system partly developed at Children’s Hospital Boston. The system, called Indivo, will be introduced at the hospital late this year and will allow patients to own and control their complete medical records, according to the hospital.

The Department of Health and Human Services awarded US$18.6 million in contracts in 2005 for the four groups to develop electronic health records. U.S. President George Bush has called on the U.S. government and private health-care providers to work together to provide e-health records to all U.S. residents by 2014.

Members of the AHIC advisory board praised the demonstrations. The e-health records will bring several benefits, including an improved quality of care, said board member Nancy Davenport-Ennis, chief executive officer of the National Patient Advocate Foundation. “There is … a great opportunity to reduce medical errors,” she said after the demonstrations.

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