IBM brings electronic medical records one step closer through open technology

IBM announced a major step in the drive toward a national electronic medical records system by contributing software technology that supports the exchange of healthcare information to the open source community.

The software, contributed to the Eclipse Foundation's Open Healthcare Framework (OHF) project, provides a mechanism to connect isolated "islands" of information that today reside throughout the healthcare system to any Health Information Exchange (HIE). Software developers will also be able to build applications that can aggregate and sift through this information to improve healthcare delivery and research while protecting individual privacy.

According to the Center for Information Technology Leadership, systems that enable standardized information exchange are by far the best investment for the nation as a whole, with net savings that likely represent 5 percent of current U.S. healthcare expenditures. Such capabilities stand to enable more accurate, timely diagnoses that could markedly improve treatments.

OHF, one of the leading efforts to deliver an open source, standards-based platform for healthcare software, has close ties to leading healthcare standards organizations. Any Independent Software Vendor (ISV) will be able to use the tools in OHF to connect their applications to any standards-based infrastructure, including IBM’s HIE.

IBM Research has also established new Healthcare and Life Sciences Innovation Centers spanning its Almaden, Watson, Haifa and Zurich Research Labs. These centers provide a focal point for collaborative work with healthcare clients and qualified IBM Business Partners in the application of key IBM Research expertise and technologies in this field.

"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."

IBM Research launched the Interoperable Healthcare Information Infrastructure, or IHII 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. The IHII project is validating software code components required to instantiate a HIE that conforms to IBM’s Health Information Framework, a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach to connecting the healthcare and life sciences ecosystem.

IBM has since validated open, standards-based healthcare interoperability with more than 20 ISVs, including Blueware, CapMed, Mandriva, PossibilityForge, SynSeer and WellLogic, as well as its ability to provide the client side interfaces for application vendors. With this contribution to the Eclipse open source community, software developers can now begin building open standards-based applications that tap the technology to help doctors, labs and hospitals adopt electronic medical records.

"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 (eHR) 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.

IBM opens Research Innovation Centers to business partners
Demonstrating its commitment to fostering innovation in the healthcare and life sciences industries, IBM announced in March 2006 that it will open access for its Business Partners to one of its most valuable assets – intellectual capital created by the scientists and engineers in its world-class Research division.

As part of that initiative, qualified Business Partners in the healthcare industry can collaborate with IBM's leading researchers and industry experts through the Innovation Centers at the Almaden and Haifa labs to deliver more innovative solutions to a broader range of clients, in both SMB and large enterprise markets. Additionally, Business Partners in the life sciences industry can collaborate with IBM researchers in the field of computational biology at the Innovation Centers at the Almaden, T.J. Watson and Zurich labs.

IBM offers this resource to qualified partners through the PartnerWorld Industry Networks, a set of industry-tailored offerings designed to help business partners develop, market and sell solutions that meet their customers’ requirements. Business Partners will be able to access research and analysis never before published externally and will also be eligible for consultations with any of IBM’s community of over 3,000 research engineers and scientists – offering for the first time ever the opportunity for IBM Research and IBM Business Partners to collaborate on delivering new solutions to the marketplace.

Related news articles:

For more information about the OHF and to download the code, go to:
http://wiki.eclipse.org/index.php/OHF

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