Seattle's 17-hospital Providence Health System is leveraging Web services to transform how it operates, according to a recent piece in Healthcare Informatics. It brought in Cupertino-based Infravio Inc. to facilitate application integration work using the approach. That has enabled the organization to link many of its in-house legacy systems into a single patient portal, permitting online bill paying among other services.
Moreover, Providence has integrated its ambulatory electronic medical record (EMR) into its emergency department and acute care physician portal. "Docs can get a comprehensive view of the complete office EMR dynamically created on the fly for them when they log into the portal," says Michael Reagin, Providence's director of research and development . "I'm a firm believer in Web services."
Providence's efforts reflect the healthcare industry's most common Web services approach, which is to rely on portals to provide automated access to back-end health data. But there are other ways to leverage Web services in healthcare, says Wes Rishel, vice president and research area director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. "You could use it, for example, to make sure that when you're creating a pre-admission for a patient, you know whether they are allergic to penicillin or not. But that's very rare."
And healthcare implementations are not necessarily just in-house. Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, based in Little Rock, relies on Austin-based Webify Solutions, to address challenges related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Apparently, practice management software vendors were threatening to cut off Blue Cross physicians if they didn't also use their clearinghouses for HIPAA-compliant claims.
"They didn't ask about Web services directly; they just asked for help," says Joseph Smith, the Arkansas Blue's CIO and vice president of private programs. "We went and found a couple of options." Working with Webify, the insurer developed a Web-based solution, implemented at physician locations, which retrieves claims files from practice management systems, translates them and distributes them, HIPAA-compliant, to the insurance company's statewide network.
Manoj Saxena, Webify's CEO and chairman, contends Web services could be scaled up to adress the interoperability challenges now undermining plans for a national healthcare IT network. Web services, he adds, could be built site by site. "You could stage your investments, get some business value, see some results and then keep adding incrementally to it," Saxena says.
Reagin also thinks Web services could accelerate information sharing within healthcare. "That would mean a real standardization of IT onto the XML world, just like the Web is standardized on HTML," he says. "Then you could start worrying about other things, rather than how can I get my data to be compatible."