Verizon Introduces Messaging Service for Health Data Transfer

At the HIMSS13 conference, Verizon unveiled Secure Universal Message Services, which is a way to share medical records through a Web browser.

Verizon has launched Secure Universal Message Services (SUMS), a cloud platform for sharing clinical data from one provider to another across any type of network.

The company introduced SUMS March 4 at HIMSS13, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in New Orleans.

Although health information exchanges (HIEs) are effective to some degree on a local level, the industry still needs a simple way to share data digitally rather than relying on fax or U.S. mail, Dr. Peter Tippett, chief medical officer and vice president of the Verizon Innovation Incubator, told eWEEK. Security and privacy concerns often prevent simple digital exchange of health care data.

"There are still a lot of things not working as far as medical records moving anywhere, and it's the big unsolved problem," said Tippett.

Of the estimated 1.2 billion patient notes each year in the United States, nearly 40 percent of them are copied and shared using fax or U.S. mail, Verizon reported.

"We haven't succeeded at making it possible for doctors to do the real basics," said Tippett. "Imagine if you had to do your job and you couldn't use email [but] everyone else could. That's how doctors feel."

Those doctors that have sent patient records through email are subject to fines under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Tippett noted.

"Right now the HIE system works fine in the cities and little regions that have pulled it off—and many have—but it doesn't work if you're trying to send [records] from a northern city to some place in Florida where the patient moves in the winter," said Tippett.

The purpose of SUMS is to send data rather than store it, Tippett noted. It resembles Web mail but doesn't offer actual email exchange. Doctors receive notification through SMS [Short Message Services], phone or email when they've received a message through SUMS.

They then access the message through the browser-based service. "If they have a browser, it will work," said Tippett. "That's where the universal [in Secure Universal Message Services] comes from."

Verizon builds on services from its Cybertrust security business, acquired in 2007. SUMS offers identity proofing of providers by requesting they enter information such as a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) medication prescriber number. Users must also provide two-factor authentication each time they log in to the portal. The service encrypts patient data and complies with audit requirements regarding electronic activity logs.

As part of the log-in process, users complete HIPAA business-associate agreements, Tippett noted.

Doctors, nurses and other caregivers can send data through the service's Universal Provider Portal along with attachments, such as dictations, X-rays, EKGs or Magnetic Resonance (MR) images. It supports various file formats, including Clinical Document Architecture (CDA), Continuity of Care Document (CCD) and Health Level 7 (HL7). API toolkits allow hospitals to tie in SUMS with their EHR platforms, said Tippett.

Avera, a regional partnership of health professionals in South Dakota and surrounding states, is testing SUMS with its eCare service, which connects rural clinics and emergency rooms to board-certified emergency physicians and specialists around the clock.

"Location should not dictate the quality of care a patient receives," Dr. Don Kosiak, Avera's director of emergency medicine, said in a statement. "SUMS gives us the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues no matter where they are located or what IT system they use."

Verizon will offer SUMS in a per-user, per-month tiered pricing model, but individual doctors can send data through the service for free.

SUMS will allow nurse practitioners and other health professionals who might not use an HIE to exchange health data.

"Services such as SUMS can remove one of the most basic and intractable barriers to interoperability, creating a national community of health care providers that can trust one another enough to share protected health information," Wes Rishel, a Gartner analyst, told eWEEK in an email.

SUMS could ease machine-to-machine (M2M) sharing of data from wireless medical devices, according to Tippett.

"If you've got a glucose meter and you want to send your glucose meter up to the cloud, you've got to be HIPAA-compliant to do that," said Tippett. "You can figure out how to do that yourself, or you can drop your message on our exchange."