Verizon unveils Internet-based health information network

The platform will allow the exchange of data regardless of geographic location and technology platforms.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Aug. 6, 2010

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Communication giant Verizon says it has created a new service that will help health care organizations combat the biggest hurdle when it comes to information exchange -- incompatible information technology platforms.

Verizon is launching a health information exchange it says will allow health care organizations to send and receive information regardless of what platform the data were created on or where they are stored. And because the platform is cloud-based -- hosted on the Internet -- data can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection, without any special hardware needed.

The system would allow physicians or health care organizations to request patient data through a secure online portal. Other services include a record locator service, cross-enterprise patient index and secure messaging.

Verizon says the system will have strong identity access management controls to ensure only authorized users access patient data. But some experts are questioning how those controls might work considering the exchange will take place across state lines, and patient privacy laws vary from state to state.

"I'm sure Verizon has the ability to make the information as secure as Fort Knox, because they have been doing it for years in several areas," said Chris Giancola, principal consultant with Falls Church, Va.-based technology consultant CSC. "But I fear for the processes around privacy and consent management."

There are state-by-state differences regarding who needs to be notified of information disclosure and how, as well as the circumstances under which they must explicitly consent and who can opt in and out, Giancola said.

Verizon spokesman Kevin Irland said his company had taken steps to address each state's privacy laws. The company also said the platform will comply with requirements set by the Office of the National Coordinator for the Nationwide Health Information Network.

San Francisco-based attorney W. Reece Hirsch, of the law firm Morgan Lewis, said that because physicians ultimately are responsible for protecting patient data, the privacy issue is one that physicians will need to be comfortable with before adopting a cloud-based system.

Giancola said the cost benefit also might be hard for some physicians to find. Verizon plans to charge for the service on a per-transaction basis, which some physicians might not want to pay. He said Verizon likely would do better to develop unlimited plans similar to what the company offers for its telephone customers.

One of Verizon's first clients is MedVirginia, a health information exchange serving central Virginia.

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