Back in the dot-com era, Netscape co-founder Jim Clark, frustrated with the fact that his medical records were scattered all over the place, started a company called Healtheon to address the problem. It was a great idea, but premature. Now, more than a decade later, the US government the healthcare industry seem determined at last to bring the full benefits of digitization and connectivity to healthcare in the US. At the same time, the maturation of cloud computing makes it possible to pull together an individual’s health information from a wide variety of sources and place it at the finger tips of healthcare providers.
That’s the backdrop for a significant new service announcement today by IBM and ActiveHealth Management, a subsidiary of Aetna. Collaborative Care, a new cloud service, gives physicians and patients access to the information they need to improve the quality of care without requiring healthcare organizations to invest in owning new technology. Using Collaborative Care, hospitals and physicians can access, share, and analyze a wide range of clinical and administrative information; automate the measurement and reporting of treatment outcomes; and improve patient care by using Aetna’s decision-support system. In addition, patients can be more actively involved in their care through a Web portal. “This partnership puts in place a new model that can drastically improve the way care is delivered,” says Robert Merkel, vice president and healthcare industry leader, IBM Global Business Services.
Think of the service as a virtual healthcare system located in the computing cloud.
IBM and ActiveHealth Management are co-investing in the business. While other companies offer piece-parts of the service, nobody else offers such a comprehensive solution. Sharp Community Medical Group, an association of primary care physicians and specialists in San Diego, Calif., is testing the service.
Challenges remain. Many independent physicians and smaller healthcare organizations don’t yet have electronic medical records systems, and even some of the larger healthcare organizations don’t yet have full interconnectivity within their own departments. But, starting next year, the US government’s Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health program provides strong incentives for going digital.
At last, Jim Clark’s vision seems to be coming to fruition. But, these days, he has left his aspirations to transform healthcare behind and is a real estate developer in Florida, so these advances aren’t doing him any good–financially, anyway. Still, they could end his frustrations with the splintering of his own health information.