AT&T set to serve the Health Internet

AT&T set to serve the Health Internet

Summary: AT&T would seem perfectly positioned to be a health ISP but whether it will play fair in the market remains to be seen.


AT&T has set up a new unit for health, which seems aimed at delivering the NHIN Direct services now being defined by the HIT Standards Committee, run through the National Coordinator for Health IT.

With that work nearing completion, the people behind it are asking themselves how big such a group should be. Should it be broad and deep, covering all stakeholders, or narrow and focused so it can move quickly?

It's an important question, because while the original NHIN Direct group contained mainly health IT specialists, big vendors like AT&T are now going to crowd into the market and seek to define its future direction.

An overview of the project, published last month, describes it as "a simple, secure, scalable, standards-based way for participants to send authenticated, encrypted health information directly to known, trusted recipients over the Internet."

Follow the standards, in other words, and you can become a health ISP. Let 1,000 Health Information Exchanges bloom.

Each side of any data transmission will have its own Health ISP. The Health ISP will be responsible for assuring that privacy and security are maintained, that the recipient of the data is authorized to get it, that everything is encrypted and safe.

Essentially, Health ISPs will maintain what amounts to both a virtual private network and a file translation service, which clinics and hospitals will join through contracts.

AT&T, which is already a major backbone provider and Internet Service Provider (ISP), would seem to be perfectly positioned to become a large Health ISP.

AT&T does not want to stop there. It sees itself delivering mobile and cloud services based on the health care applications of various companies it partners with. It said $4 billion in revenue came through last year from health companies.

But what NHIN Direct seems to need most are health ISPs that will stick to their knitting, acting as honest brokers of data between any applications, rather than favoring their own partners.

It remains to be seen whether AT&T will play that way.

Topics: AT&T, CXO, Health, Legal, IT Employment

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  • Can't ATT do both?

    I really don't see a problem with a company offering both areas of service.

    I believe, however, that there needs to be a NHIN Direct "Certification" that is a standalone certification requiring that companies provide that standalone service.

    In terms of other areas, let ATT compete with others if they want, and let me choose which patient level service I really want to use - it any.
    • RE: AT&T set to serve the Health Internet

      @Ken_z In this case clinics or hospitals would be the customers. It's a b2b market. My concern is that AT&T may tie customers of its Health ISP services to its other services or those of its "business partners." We get enough of that on our mobile phones.
  • No carrier will turn down revenues

    WHile I can understand your concerns (and the fact that it is a b2b as well as a potential consumer/patient market) I believe that all carriers will have products to offer through partners.

    As long as these products can easily interact with competing products I have no problems with that. I can see some smaller health providers being able to save money in a package deal.

    Easy interaction between products is the key and needs to be mandatory. It is unacceptable for any product to be approved if it keeps the competition from obtaining patient data when needed. Simple, fast, interaction or make it impossible to use for patient data.

    (When you take the time to consider how mobile this country is it is easy to see how critical interoperability between products will be for long term success. You move from, say, Atlanta to Dallas or Seattle and you are giong to want your medical available every step of the move and when you settle into a new doctor/clinic and hospital.

    In the patient decision side, I believe that there will be a lot of patients who will be making independent choices on what they want to hold on their smart phones, tablets or computers. And I think that is potentially a very good market for developers who want to tap into that revenue stream.

    I can also tell you that as a patient I have the bests knowledge of the sources of data and patient information on me. Going back to the T&A in the 5th grade (about '55).
    • RE: AT&T set to serve the Health Internet

      @Ken_z I agree with you in theory. But we have ample experience of AT&T acting like a monopolist, and scant evidence of their ever proving competitive in a market where competition was the rule.