Wal-Mart, Intel launch e-health project

Companies hope to reduce health care costs with Dossia database

Five large companies said today they will begin next year to provide their employees access to an electronic medical record system that will be used to help reduce the hefty costs of health care.

Applied Materials Inc., British Petroleum America Inc., Intel Corp., Pitney Bowes Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are funding a nonprofit institute to develop "Dossia," a Web-based electronic health record that can be used for storing health information on the 2.5 million employees, dependents and retirees who have health insurance through one of the five companies.

The companies hope the electronic record -- which will be available to employees in mid-2007 -- will help eliminate medical errors, duplicate testing and other causes that increase health care costs.

Employers so far have been AWOL in the ongoing effort to help support the adoption of electronic medical records nationally, said Craig Barrett, chairman and CEO of Intel. But, he added, the rising costs are now beginning to affect the ability of companies to successfully compete.

"Think of [the initiative] as American industry getting involved in health care," Barrett said. "If we're paying half of the [health care] bill in the U.S. ... we want to get a more effective return on that investment. Medical costs cannot continue to grow faster than inflation. We employers are looking at it as putting a cap on health care [spending]."

Omnimedix Institute, a nonprofit organization in Portland, Ore., will develop Dossia. J.D. Kleinke, chairman and CEO of Omnimedix, describes Dossia as a "hypersecure medical Internet" being designed by people who have experience building IT security for banking systems. Users can enter information into the Dossia system, or it will gather health information on behalf of the requesting users and store it in a database, Kleinke said. Neither the employers nor any insurance company will have access to the information, according to the founding members.

Because Dossia will use a federated database model, portions of a person's medical history will be stored on different servers so that a complete history could never be obtained by a security breach, Kleinke added.

Users can choose what information will be included in the record and who may access the data. Dossia is based on the Connecting for Health Common Framework, a set of design and policy standards developed by consumer advocacy groups, physician groups, insurers and privacy organizations, Kleinke said.

Each of the founding members is contributing a "seven-figure" sum to Omnimedix to help set up the system, Barrett said. In the future, the group expects to add additional employers and government participants who would pay a per-user fee to participate in the program, he added. In February, the founding members plan to announce additional companies that have joined the effort, Barrett said.

Linda Dillman, executive vice president of risk management, benefits and sustainability at Wal-Mart, said her company envisions growing consumer demand for health information as a help in driving adoption of electronic health records.

"As those patients manage their health records -- they are going to want the doctors to have the same information," she said. "Consumers are good at driving change."

Michael Critelli, chairman and CEO of Pitney Bowes, said Dossia will help expand his company's efforts to curb health care costs. These efforts, which include fitness and nutrition programs, have already helped the company reduce its health care costs by 10% to 40% for various chronic diseases, he said. For example, Dossia will allow the company to electronically remind patients of physician appointments, he said.

"We can actually increase the tools available to the employee to do what needs to be done," he said. "People want those things, but we don't have any systematic reliable way to get it to them."

Patricia Miller, senior vice president of human resources at BP, said her company can't quantify at this time how much money it may be able to save on health care costs with Dossia.

"We are confident that just the efficiencies that this sort of system will bring will have to by definition reduce costs ... by fewer errors being made, reducing duplicate tests," she said. "It is an investment as part of a collaborative process to help seek solutions to what is really an out-of-control situation with the rising costs of health care."

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