IBM Gives Health Records Tech to Open Source Community

IBM has announced another contribution to the open source community: software technology that supports the exchange of healthcare information. The move is “a major step in the drive toward a national electronic medical records system,” the company said.

The software, donated to theEclipse Foundation’s Open Healthcare Framework project, provides a mechanism to connect isolated “islands” of information that currently reside throughout the healthcare system to any Health Information Exchange.

Developers will be able to build applications that can manage this information to improve healthcare delivery and medical research while protecting individual privacy, according to IBM.

Systems that enable standardized information exchange can produce net savings of roughly 5 percent of current U.S. healthcare expenditures, says the Center for Information Technology Leadership.

“Such capabilities stand to enable more accurate, timely diagnoses that could markedly improve treatments,” IBM pointed out.

Patient-Centric Approach

Through its efforts to deliver an open source, standards-based platform for healthcare software, the Open Healthcare Framework has developed close ties to healthcare standards organizations. Any independent software vendor will be able to use the tools in OHF to connect its applications to any standards-based infrastructure, including IBM’s Health Information Exchange.

“One of the more significant challenges in creating a national interoperable electronic healthcare information infrastructure is the ability to access disparate health records stored in proprietary medical IT systems,” said 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,” he added.

‘New Ecosystem’

IBM Research launched the Interoperable Healthcare Information Infrastructure project in 2005, with a prototype health information exchange platform capable of supporting local, regional and national healthcare organizations.

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.

IBM has since validated open standards-based healthcare interoperability with more than 20 ISVs, including Blueware, CapMed, Mandriva, PossibilityForge, SynSeer and WellLogic.

“The features in OHF will enable a new ecosystem to develop in the healthcare industry,” said Grahame Grieve, project leader, Eclipse OHF project. “The availability of a lightweight, open source framework will allow eHealth Record 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 healthcare enterprises.”

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

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