Verizon Offers Free Identity Credentials for Medical Data Exchange

Verizon will grant 2.3 million medical professionals free identity credentials for its health information exchange.

Verizon Business has announced that it will issue medical identity credentials to 2.3 million U.S. physicians, medical assistants and nurse practitioners for free beginning in January to access the company's health information exchange.

Under the 2009 HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, health care exchanges must require stringent identity credentials beginning in mid-2011 to share and access electronic health records.

The credentials will allow doctors and clinicians to access medical data via the Verizon Medical Data Exchange through a secure, private inbox. The inbox is part of Verizon's Healthcare Provider Portal, which it has added to the exchange. The portal allows medical data to be exchanged among applications, doctors and individual users, according to Steve Archer, senior manager of Verizon's Innovation Incubator Group.

Without electronic credentials, doctors would need to exchange medical records and discharge orders via faxes and paper, Archer told eWEEK.

"If they haven't gone through credentials, they'd get a fax with a onetime username and password and information on how to get into the exchange, and the offer to retrieve that information electronically," he explained.

Users obtain access to the portal by entering data such as a username, password and software token. Credentials help eliminate the spread of fraudulent medical data.

Doctors currently maintain multiple credentials for various medical facilities, according to Archer. "Doctors have 17 different credentials they're trying to maintain," he said. "If you compound that challenge by doing multifactor authentication on top of that, it can be a burdensome process."

Announced on Nov. 17, Verizon's credentialing service will allow medical professionals to use a single identity for multiple health IT applications.

The Verizon Medical Data Exchange is interoperable with multiple data sources and standards. It can move files of 2GB or less electronically among health care organizations.

On Oct. 14, Verizon expanded the types of data that can be exchanged to include X-rays and lab results.

The credentials comply with NIST (The National Institute of Standards and Technology) Level 3 authentication restrictions.

With the credentials, medical professionals can access EHRs, e-prescribing services and HIEs (health information exchanges) such as the Verizon Health Information Exchange, which pulls patient data from multiple sources.

Although the credentialing service will be free for individual doctors, Verizon will charge a fee for applications and businesses such as hospitals.

Credential authentication will involve a random four-digit PIN creating an identity string, which would have to be recognized by the data exchange. Other exchanges will have an easy transition to access Verizon's exchange, Archer noted.

"You can redirect the same way you do today and redirect an authentication request to our platform," he said.

The Verizon exchange will comply with 14 or 15 form factors, according to Archer.

For Verizon, the challenge in creating the credential process has been affordability, Archer noted. "Getting the credentials out to the masses has been a very expensive endeavor," he said.

"We've come up with a new way of issuing credentials that still meets all of the requirements and can do so at much lower cost. It's really been an important move for Verizon and our identity practice as a whole."