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Employer group to fund health record sharing effort

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A group of five large employers is providing millions of dollars in seed money to develop a common technological framework to facilitate the sharing of personal health records over the Internet.

Dubbed "Dossia," the project being funded by Applied Materials, BP America Inc., Intel Corp., Pitney Bowes Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is intended to make the health care system less costly and more efficient by reducing administrative costs and medical errors, and by putting more information in the hands of consumers so they can manage their own care.

Such a system is necessary because even though there are hundreds of Internet applications available for creating personal health records, there is no single platform on which they all can all co-exist and communicate with one another, according to J.D. Kleinke, chairman and chief executive officer of Omnimedix Institute, the Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit that will build Dossia.

Dossia will be designed to enable individuals to gather all of their electronic personal health information--including medical histories, insurance claims, pharmacy claims and any other pertinent data--into a single, secure location on the Internet, and it will be portable, so users can continue to access it whether they change jobs, change insurers or retire. But it will not create personal health records, according to Mr. Kleinke.

"We're not building a PHR. We're building an infrastructure to support all PHRs," Mr. Kleinke said. "Our goal is to build the Internet" for personal health records, he said, likening creators of PHRs such as WebMD to Internet storefronts such as "Match.com and e-Bay and Amazon."

"There are 300 WebMDs and WebMD wannabes out there, but all of them have no network of data to connect to. This has not been explained well because people don't understand infrastructure. It's like somebody had a press conference 20 years ago and said, 'We're going to build the Internet so a lot of computers can share files.' No one would know what that was," Mr. Kleinke said. "The goal of this is to be the infrastructure to support, catalyze and proliferate other people's PHRs."

And to ensure the security of personal health records when they are stored in Internet applications, Dossia access will be strictly controlled by individuals who can decide who can have access, he added.

Michael Critelli, chairman and CEO of Stamford, Conn.-based Pitney Bowes, said his company is supporting the creation of Dossia because it could ultimately improve the quality and lower the cost of health care by "reducing the cost of duplicate collection of information, eliminating redundant testing and all of the costs associated with obtaining records from somewhere else."

"I also think there will be linkages," he said. For example, "those employees who opt in and have chronic diseases will receive prompts and reminders to stay up to date on their medication," he said.

According to a spokesman for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart: "Currently there are many different groups and entities offering personal health records to consumers. Most provide only a snapshot of information, your claims information for the time you are insured with one health plan, or your pharmacy information from one drugstore, for instance. Once created, Dossia will provide individuals access to all this information from multiple sources in a secure database. At the user's request, Dossia updates the lifelong record automatically. Users always have access to the information regardless of their health plan, employer or physician."

The employers would not disclose the total amount of money to be committed to the project, though each is expected to make a seven-figure contribution.

Though not among the financiers of Dossia, EMC Corp.'s benefits director applauded the effort.

"It's wonderful to see companies such as theseÖcreate demand for adoption of PHRs," said Delia Vetter.

"The financial services sector has built the infrastructure" so that "today, anywhere across the globe, we can access our bank accounts with our ATM cards," she said. "The only sector where we have not done that yet is in the health care sector. It's imperative for us as a society to have that information at our fingertips."

The Hopkinton, Mass.-based technology company has been providing PHRs through WebMD to its employees since 2004 and will begin offering them to employees' dependents in early 2007, according to Ms. Vetter.

Craig Froude, executive vp of WebMD's health care services based in Portland, Ore., also was supportive of the Dossia project.

"We want to have the one place that consumers can go to view that aggregated information and take action based on that. If this consortium could help to provide information to that, that could be very useful to us," Mr. Froude said. "We're absolutely supportive to freer information exchange, especially as it relates to medical information."

Dossia will initially be available to the U.S. employees, dependents and retirees of the five companies providing the initial financing and will be made available later to other employers and developers of personal health record applications.