Today's Debate: Is the Medical Banking Project worthwhile?

What the Medical Banking Project, and its many members, seem most focused on is the creation of Personal Health Records, aimed at cutting paperwork and errors. Everyone wants to do that. Hillary Clinton wants to do that.

Medical Banking Project logoSince 2001 the Medical Banking Project has been working to integrate bank processing networks with health care.

In 2005 the group announced a standard set of file formats called COMBAT for medical banking, a term it trademarked back in 1996.

In May it finally announced its platform, which integrates so-called Personal Health Records (as advocated by, among others IBM) into bank processing.

This has been a dream of payment processors for a quarter-century. One of my earliest Atlanta interviews was with a processing executive who dreamed of adding health care to his portfolio. He should have stayed out of it.

In theory it all makes sense. In practice, not so much.

Bank card processing, medical processing and telephone record processing sound similar, but in fact they are wildly-divergent disciplines.

Every credit card transaction is, in fact, a loan, with one respondent responsible for the bill. Health care has multiple payees, as well as many intermediaries, and there's no such thing as declining a health care transaction. Telephone record processing is a high-volume, small dollar batch-oriented business, which generates bills payable-on-demand.

These networks do, sometimes intersect. Make a call from a hospital phone and you will hit the telephone system. Put a co-pay on your credit card and you'll hit the medical system.

What the Medical Banking Project, and its many members, seem most focused on is the creation of Personal Health Records, aimed at cutting paperwork and errors. Everyone wants to do that. Hillary Clinton wants to do that.

The question is, always, who controls the data. Given the recent scandals in payment processing, with identity theft on the rise, I doubt many people will say the credit card industry.

But this industry does have processing expertise, and you have to hit banking computers to process health care payments. So shouldn't they at least be given a chance to try?