IBM unveils new technology for sharing health data worldwide

IBM says it has created a new technology that standardizes how health information is shared and automates the analysis of infectious disease outbreaks.

IBM researchers worked with the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Global Health and Security Initiative and the Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance to develop the secure Web-based portal system.

Called Public Health Information Affinity Domain (PHIAD), the technology is being deployed in the Middle East, and the partners are pushing for international deployment, IBM officials say.

PHIAD uses near-real time information and enables the secure exchange of data on national and international levels.

"This collaboration writes the newest chapter in a story of healthcare information technology innovation - innovation that progressively tackles head-on the lack of integration and communication between key players in the healthcare industry worldwide," says Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM's Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry. "Built upon the same open-standards-based health information exchange architecture that increasingly enables the use of electronic health records around the world, this new technology will take transformation higher, improving critical health information sharing between nations in an increasingly global economy - and helping the world's healthcare community to focus on prevention, wellness and the safety of patients and populations at large."

Disease reporting is required by law in most countries and also under the International Health Regulations (IHR). The regulations require all countries to report any infectious disease outbreak of international significance. Today, most reporting is done via fax, spreadsheet or phone calls.

Public health needs near-real-time information to respond quickly to emerging cases of infectious diseases, Pelino said, yet the methods of sharing information are slow, unwieldy and in many cases almost nonexistent.

The biggest technical challenge, according to IBM officials, is the lack of interoperability and use of standards and uniform coding systems.

"Nuclear Threat Initiative's Global Health and Security Initiative is working in some of the most complicated regions of the world to help develop regional disease surveillance networks such as MECIDS (Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance) that can be the building blocks for improving the quality and effectiveness of global disease surveillance," said Terence Taylor, Nuclear Threat Initiative's vice president for global health and security. "IBM's PHIAD system will enhance the existing regional collaboration at several levels and allow health professionals to stay a step ahead of potentially dangerous disease outbreaks."