IBM, SSA launch federal health records exchange

IBM Corp., the Social Security Administration (SSA) and MedVirginia have launched a medical health record exchange system that will speed the processing of disability claims.

Two years in the making, the system links SSA with MedVirgnia, a regional health information exchange in Richmond, Va., that allows hospitals, doctors and other health care providers to share information electronically with SSA as the agency processes disability claims.

The system is a model that SSA could use across the country, said Tom Romeo, an IBM vice president and government healthcare services leader. The agency processes three million disability clams a year.

“Today when you file a disability claim, Social Security sends letters and collects records from physicians and labs but it is all paper-based,” he said.

Inevitably something is missing from the claim, so more letters are written and sent back and forth. The process takes weeks and often months just the collect the records, let along make a determination of benefits. “The result is that the person with the disability has to wait a long time for their benefits,” Romeo said.

The new system can complete the process of collecting the records in minutes, Romeo said.

The project is part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) Cooperative and is the first health information exchange between a regional health information organization and a U.S. federal agency, IBM said.

The interface between SSA and MedVirginia is built on IBM’s Health Information Provider solution, the company said.

The goal of the NHIN project was to demonstrate that a system could collect information from different providers, translate it into a standard format and then share it.

The expectation is that SSA will form connections with other regional health information organization, known as RHIOs, to collect and share information. The business opportunity for IBM and other government contractors is to build the interface between the agency and the RHIOs, Romeo said.

The health care money in the federal stimulus package should accelerate that process, he said.

Other federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services need similar connections with the RHIOs, Romeo said. For example, the FDA needs to collect information on adverse reactions to drugs.

The MedVirginia project is a step toward the Obama administration’s goal of an electronic health record for all Americans, Romeo said.

The Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and the Military Health System probably have the great need to be able to share medical records, he said.

“VA has an excellent health record system, probably the most advanced in the world,” Romeo said. But the problem is that only 60 percent of a veteran's care takes place in VA facilities. When veterans go outside the system they must carry paper records with them, he said.

For IBM and other companies that can build the information technology infrastructure to enable electronic health records, the business opportunities are beginning to heat up. The stimulus package includes $2 billion to fund health information exchanges.

There also is money to help physicians standup electronic health record systems in their offices, Romeo said.

Another opportunity is for companies such as IBM to provide a hosted electronic health record system whereby a doctor logs onto a portal to enter and retrieve medical records. The doctor won’t have to maintain an electronic health record system, he said.

The sharing of medical records is just the beginning and has the potential to transform the nation’s health care system, Romeo said.