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IBM gives paperless medical records a push

Electronic health records are considered a cure for the ills of the healthcare industry when it comes to a disconnected chain of paper files on all manor of patient records, such as allergies, prescriptions and family history. Even the Bush Administration has mandated the creation of a universal digital health record for all patients by 2014, despite critics fears about consumer privacy.

Now IBM is pushing along the process. The software giant said Wednesday it has contributed software to the open-source community backing efforts for digital records. It has donated code to the Eclipse Foundation's Open Healthcare Framework (OHF) project, an initiative to build a standards-based platform for healthcare software, and which is backed by tech companies including IBM.

The donated software will go to creating a platform for interoperable data exchange, or a Health Information Exchange (HIE), which will connect various sources of patient information. From this, developers can build applications to aggregate and mine the data, while at the same time protecting individual privacy.

It's a noble goal in that if successful, doctors could have more timely access to life-saving patient information, for example. But it's also cost-saving measure. The Center for Information Technology Leadership has estimated that a repository for digital healthcare records could save the U.S. healthcare industry as much as 5 percent on annual spending on tasks like file management.