Pacific Bell Near Deal to Develop Futuristic Medical Network
By George Avalos, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif. Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 15--Pacific Bell has nearly closed a deal to develop a futuristic medical network capable of electronically exchanging patient information among a variety of health-care providers, executives confirmed Tuesday.
The California network Pacific Bell has proposed could dramatically improve the speed and efficiency of health-care delivery systems.
``This would be the information highway for health care,'' said Rebecca Weill, a spokeswoman for Pacific Bell. The phone company is working with a group of companies that includes Hughes Electronics.
Health-care professionals could use a variety of gizmos, including hand- held computers and wireless phones, to tap into the high-tech communications network to review patient records, medical histories, treatments and billing information. An authorized user could also transfer the data to another authorized user.
``There will be terminals, nodes, portable devices that will be in doctors' offices, hospitals, insurance companies, clinics, surgery centers,'' said Michael Ball, executive director of the Fresno-based California Health Information Association. ``Those with appropriate access to this system would be able to share information as to what health care has been delivered to an individual.''
The network would be used by a consortium operating as Healthcare Data Information Corp. Healthcare Data's members include Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Healthcare West, Aetna, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, hospital councils and the California Medical Association.
``Ultimately, this would upgrade health-care delivery to patients, improve the process of decision-making in health care, reduce the costs and cut the complexity of administration,'' said Rita Moya, president and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Healthcare Data.
The network could work in several ways: -An emergency-room physician could immediately obtain information about unfamiliar patients.
-Health care providers in the field could transfer the same information to a hand-held computer.
-A primary-care physician could transfer records to a specialist who is being brought in to consult about a patient. Radiology documents and other images also could be exchanged among doctors.
-Companies on the financial side of health care could more readily keep track of billings.
``You won't have as much duplication of tests,'' Moya said. The operators of this health-care network also will compile information from patient treatments. This will allow government agencies and medical associations study health-care trends.
To be sure, the network faces some significant challenges, not the least of which is to ensure that patient records are kept secure. Examples have abounded recently that suggest computer crackers can break into computer networks.
``We want to be certain the privacy and confidentiality of information that can be identified with a patient is preserved,'' said Ball of the health information group.
Executives say the network will ensure privacy in a number of ways, including use of military technology that kept Cold War-era communications secure. ``This is a good example of a technology conversion from the military,'' Moya said.
The contract to launch the network should be signed in a few weeks, executives said. END!A$6?CC-HEALTH-INFO
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