IBM has agreed to provide security support for health care IT provider American Well's Web-based telehealth software, called Online Care.
Online Care allows patients to communicate remotely with doctors from their homes or offices in online consultations. The service also provides access to electronic health records and health information exchanges.
Big Blue will aid American Well in developing more secure, customized versions of its Online Care application for each client.
IBM security measures for the American Well service encompass authentication, session management and passwords.
Some security enhancements won't be immediately noticeable to users, according to American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg. "Much of the infrastructure is not visible, [such as] scanning how the system behaves, checking data integrity," he told eWEEK.
Telehealth allows patients such as veterans or those in rural areas who can't get to a medical facility in person to go online for live medical guidance from doctors and for lab results. The service is also a way around consulting with a doctor that's booked up or one that may not take a patient's insurance.
"Telehealth and Online Care are emerging areas that will have a significant impact on how care is delivered-extending the reach of better care and making it possible for more patients to get the care they need when they need it," Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences, said in a statement. "With this smarter system also comes the need to protect patient, provider and physician data in a way that monitors and pre-empts threats before they occur-part of our initiative to deliver a secure by design IT infrastructure."
The service is available through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Hawaii, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, OptumHealth and TriWest Healthcare Alliance.
American Well developed the NowClinic telehealth app for OptumHealth patients in Minnesota and other areas, while Blue Cross has implemented the Online Care service in western New York.
Using American Well, patients are able to connect to primary care physicians and specialists online.
The telemedicine industry has been expanding by nearly 10 percent a year, market research firm Datamonitor reports. The industry in North America will reach $2.4 billion in spending this year and triple to about $6.1 billion by 2012, according to Datamonitor.
"It's not just a way of securing software from our company," Schoenberg said. "It's a way of allowing health care delivery."
With its collaboration with American Well, IBM hopes to make telehealth more secure.
"Through our partnership with IBM, our clients have the assurance and required confidence that their patient information is secure amidst an ever-changing threat landscape," Jason Medeiros, vice president of hosting at American Well, said in a statement.
For a telehealth service to work, a patient needs to be able to trust its security and privacy, according to Sean Hogan, IBM's vice president of health care delivery systems.
"In terms of what we're bringing to the table, we're bringing the trust and security services to American Well," Hogan told eWEEK.
In August California announced the launch of the nation's largest telehealth service, CTN (California Telehealth network).