System to Give Workers Access to Health Care Records

Five major U.S. employers – Applied Materials, BP America Inc., Intel Corp, Pitney Bowes and Wal-Mart – have joined forced to fund a project that will allow employees and their families to have lifelong access to their personal medical records.

"Dossia" is a Web-based system in which 2.5 million U.S. employees, dependents and retirees can maintain lifelong personal health records. The records will be stored in a database that only the employee is able to see.

According to a statement issued by the coalition of five employers, Dossia is a vital tool to support employee wellness and health care cost management.

"Dossia will empower individuals to manage their own health care, improve communications with their doctors and ensure more complete and accurate information for health care providers than the current fragmented, paper-based system," said J.D. Kleinke, chairman and CEO of the Omnimedix Institute, the Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit organization that is developing Dossia. "With Dossia's personal, private and portable personal health records, individuals will be able to maintain comprehensive, up-to-date histories for themselves and their families."

Omnimedix will be in charge of gathering information from insurers, pharmacies, doctors and other health care providers, according to the company. Patients also will be able to update their records.

Supporters: Health IT Critical to Lowering Health Care Costs

The benefits of the data warehouse initiative were announced earlier today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The five companies, as well as organizations in the health care industry, employer associations and consumer groups, were present to discuss the advantages of the new system.

John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said that a notable advantage of the system is that it is directly in the hands of employees and that employees choose what information is shared, how and to whom.

"The use of health information technology is critical for attaining higher-quality health care and lower health costs," Engler said. "In manufacturing, innovative technology streamlines operations, resulting in reduced costs, increased efficiency and better quality – all necessary to compete in a global marketplace. Health IT offers the same benefits for health care."

Dossia also has the support of institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Consumers League for promoting employee health and wellness as well as for increasing employee engagement in managing their care.

"Dossia has the potential to positively impact millions of workers and their families, and it should serve as a call to other employers across the country to help their employees take control of their own personal health records," said National Consumer League President and CEO Linda Golodner.

Coalition: Dossia is Secure and Accessible

According to the coalition, the Dossia system will work like this: It gathers health information on behalf of the individual from various sources and stores it within secured databases. Dossia's open architecture will support multiple personal health applications, allowing users to organize and summarize their information in ways that are most useful to them.

Health records will be secure and private, accessible only by the individual or by others to whom they have granted permission. According to the coalition, records also will be portable, enabling individuals to continue using the records even if they change employers, health plans or doctors.

In addition, the coalition noted that Dossia features stringent privacy and security policies and procedures, including a strong authentication system. Individuals opt-in to the system and then decide what information to share and with whom. No one can see an individual's information without his or her permission.

Since Dossia is hosted by an independent third party, the coalition pointed out that there is an organizational barrier between the data and outside parties, including employers and health insurers.

"Dossia represents a highly secure health care information superhighway that will connect patients with their own medical data," Kleinke said.

Cutting Out Paperwork, Administrative Costs

For the companies involved, the main incentive is to cut out the paperwork in health care, thereby reducing administrative costs. The companies also said they believe that with better information sharing will come better care and fewer mistakes.

Dossia supporters believe that rising health care costs are threatening the nation's competitiveness. With employers paying almost half of all U.S. health care costs, supporters said they believe Dossia will be an important component in making the health care system more efficient and effective and eliminating waste and duplication of effort on behalf of consumers and providers.

Dossia initially will be rolled out to U.S. employees, dependents and retirees of the five companies in mid-2007. The coalition added that it hopes to get more companies involved in this initiative in the future.

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