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IBM to Test Health Care Data Sharing

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Hoping to prove that automation will improve health care and cut costs, International Business Machines Corp. said Monday it's developing a test system for sharing electronic medical data among hospitals, agencies and patients.

The Interoperable Health Information Infrastructure test project, which is expected to be operational by year end, will connect IBM sites in San Jose, Calif., Rochester, Minn., and Haifa, Israel. Researchers will use a variety of real and doctored data.

The system will help identify the best standards for such information as well as any additional challenges that might crop up before such a network is deployed on a global scale, said Neil de Crescenzo, IBM Business Consulting Services' health care industry leader.

``Improving health care through the flow of electronic medical information is a national priority,'' he said. ``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.''

It's estimated a move to electronic medical records could shave 10 percent or more from the $1.7 trillion spent on health care each year in the United States alone. President Bush has made moving from paper to electronic health records a national priority, and a number of regional efforts are underway, too.

Besides possibly lowering costs, an interoperable system would help improve the quality of health care by enabling instant access to records anywhere and minimizing the potential for mistakes that have become too common with paper records.

A comprehensive, global system also could be used to quickly identify biological attacks and emerging epidemics. Some of the data used in the test system will attempt to mirror such scenarios, said James Kaufman, research manager at IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose.

``Proving that the standards are correct and that the designs will work requires that we stress test such a system,'' Kaufman said.

Security and privacy also are top priorities. Given recent thefts of financial data, a massive health data network may be a tough sale even with extensive testing.

``IBM has a lot of experience in financial data, in creating technology to secure data and to ensure privacy,'' Kaufman said. ``There's also a role of government in regulating people who are holding data and responsible for the sharing of it. We need to talk about both.''
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