The Dossia Consortium (2 Jan 2007)

From Nhs It Info

One reason for scepticism about the British Connecting for Health initiative is that the USA has not so far found it necessary to give itself a nationally standardized system of electronic patient records. However, according to a story in The Economist ("Bit by bit", p. 77 of the issue of 9 Dec 2006), this may be about to change. The Economist article reports plans announced by Wal-Mart on 6 Dec for a consortium of companies, also including Intel and the American division of BP, among others, to launch an online patient-information service, "Dossia", in the course of 2007. The system will be built and operated by a not-for-profit company, the Omnimedix Institute of Oregon, and will initially cover 2.5 million employees, dependants, and pensioners.

The Economist asks what the motivation of consortium members is for taking this initiative, pointing out that while some member firms, e.g. Intel, may increase their market by supplying resources needed to create the system, others will not: "Electronic medical records will not increase sales at BP or Wal-Mart". Motives quoted by spokeswomen for consortium members include the fact that BP’s employees frequently relocate, making portable records convenient for them, and the appeal of the non-profit nature of the system – Linda Dillman of Wal-Mart is quoted as saying "The data will come out of the commercial space and become the property of the individual". A weightier motive, The Economist believes, is cost containment. David Matheson of the Boston Consulting Group comments "Employers are completely frustrated by the health industry’s slow adoption of information technology", and this echoed by the Dossia group itself, which is quoted as claiming "with employers paying almost half of all US healthcare costs, Dossia will be an important component in making the healthcare system more efficient and effective, eliminating waste and duplication".

Evidently there have been comparable initiatives which failed in the past, but The Economist argues that the status of the companies involved now suggests that the time may have come for a new effort to succeed. Independently of the Dossia consortium, the magazine notes that Google is also now discussing the possibility of undertaking related initiatives. The Economist refers to the risk that confidentiality issues could defeat the plans, but the consortium is well aware of the need to tread carefully.

Geoffrey Sampson
Sussex University

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