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IBM's answer to medical mashup: A search engine

Company unveils prototype network that would create a mashup of a patient's records.

IBM has created a medical records search engine that, if implemented, would produce a mashup of an individual's records from hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories and physicians.

The company unveiled the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) on Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. IBM had a one-year contract with the agency to develop a prototype network that would allow standards-based medical records systems to communicate with one another. The company is demonstrating the system at the Third Nationwide Health Information Network Forum this week in Washington, D.C.

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The IBM project differs from other medical records management systems in development in that it is a communications network among various medical database systems, rather than a centralized database, according to Tom Romeo, the director of federal health care at IBM's Global Business Services.

IBM's prototype network searches medical databases connected to it for patient information by name, date of birth and address. Security for the system is based on HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) standards, according to Romeo, and the data is only imported for view if the system finds an exact match.

The system, which is currently being tested at seven hospitals and 24 physicians' offices, requires patient authorization for a search to be performed. The data is only available for a one-time view at the time of search, remaining on the networks of the hospitals' and physicians' systems where it was originally stored. The system is software and hardware "agnostic," according to IBM, and "adheres to open standards" so that different systems can connect through it.

NHIN could also allow government regulatory agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention access to data--in which patients' identities would be kept secret--for studying medical trends, according to Romeo.