The alliance, as earlier reported by CNET News.com and announced today at Intel's Internet Health Day event in New York, will focus on creating so-called digital credentials that Intel and the AMA plan to eventually distribute to health Web sites, physicians, and consumers. Digital credentials are a piece of encrypted software that helps verify a person's identity to Web sites. Intel also announced that it has created a new Internet Authentication Services unit to develop these credential services.
Health care has the potential to be a huge online industry, and companies such as Healtheon and Medquist already have entered the space. But many privacy experts regard health information as being among the most sensitive information that can be distributed, requiring companies to safeguard that data. Digital credentials like those developed by Intel help ensure that only authorized physicians, insurers, and consumers can access a patient's medical transcripts or other health records.
"If you're buying a book online, it's not critical that I know your ID," said Mariah Scott, manager for Intel's authentication services unit. "If you're talking about accessing your health records online, you really need to know that this is a physician," Scott said.
The deal also serves two key strategic aims for Intel. Earlier this year, the company launched an Internet services division as part of its expanded mission to provide the "building blocks" to the Internet economy. Today's deal gives a boost to that effort. Company executives from CEO Craig Barrett on down have also been touting the importance of business-to-business e-commerce, as well as Intel's desire to play a major role in its development.
Intel is not alone in developing authentication software. VeriSign, Network Associates, and Entrust, among other companies, are involved in developing digital certificates that verify a user's identity. But much of the digital certificate effort to date has centered on financial transactions.
Intel said that Healtheon-WebMD and Franklin Health have all signed on to use the new software. Physicians will be able to use digital credentials to store and view patient charts through MedQuist, and consumers will be able to use them to update their health information on WellMed's WellRecord.
Scott said Intel already is prototyping the authentication service with a small group of physicians from the AMA and is beta-testing it with Healtheon-WebMD and WellMed. She said the company plans to fully bring out the service early next year.
Physicians will be able to obtain a digital credential through the AMA, Scott said; although Intel and the AMA are still deciding on the mechanics of the enrollment process.
Intel also is planning to extend its authentication services into other Internet and e-commerce areas, Scott said.
"Our first focus is health care, but we think these authentication services are applicable to a number of other businesses," she said.