For the past 15 years, most health IT efforts were framed within a single institution; now, emphasis is shifting to moving information across institutions, said Scott Myers, of Accenture, which is leading one of the consortia. The others are led by Computer Science Corporation (CSC), IBM Corp. and Northrop Grumman.
The consortia have a year to come up with a network architecture and prototype network so that medical data can be shared securely between hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies and physicians.
The goal is that future IT efforts will build off of each consortiums best ideas. "Were not trying to pick winners and losers, but pick a starter-set and help us learn what we can do to make this work," said health IT czar David Brailer. The architecture design for the networks will go into the public domain to stimulate further ideas.
But a survey released on Wednesday by the California Healthcare Foundation concluded that patients were worried about the security of their personal health information. "Without strong safeguards, reliable privacy protection, and vigilant enforcement of privacy laws, public support for the national effort to develop a health care network could be in jeopardy," the study states.
About 13 percent of patients have asked doctors to fudge a diagnosis, paid for a test out-of-pocket to avoid an insurance claim, or avoided treatment by their regular doctor. Chronically ill and younger patients as well as members of ethnic minorities are more likely to engage in these so-called "privacy-protection" behaviors.
However, most patients are willing to share information that can be used to keep them healthy, and the consortia are charged with finding ways to keep information secure. Another consortia established by RTI and the National Governors Association is working to clarify national and state privacy policies.
Brailer said that there were "scores and scores" of applicants for the four contracts. Though the $18.6 million awarded is tiny compared to the nations $1.7 trillion annual spending on health care, Brailer said that the funds would "jump-start" the market for interoperable health IT. Once started, said Brailer, the health IT market should not require a steady infusion of government funds.
About 150 RHIOs (regional health information organizations) have already formed to figure out how a patients health information could follow him from, say, an outpatient clinic, to a hospital, and to a nursing home within the same community. However, viable business models for RHIOs are still being worked out. Several RHIOs belong to the consortia.