San Jose, Calif. -- "Physician, plug in thyself" was the call to action at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in New Orleans last week. But the leisurely evolution of standards in data formats and profiles is setting a relatively slow pace for the rollout of online medical services.
Companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. announced new templates, tools and online forums to accelerate the buildout. But so far, consumers are outpacing doctors and clinics in going online for health care services.
The Internet accounts for three of the top five sources of health information for consumers, but those sources usually do not include their local providers, according to a survey of more than 4,000 people commissioned by Cisco Systems.
Only 27 percent of respondents said their medical providers have fully embraced the Internet to deliver health information and services. Sixty-two percent said their doctor doesn't have a Web site or e-mail address they can use to schedule an appointment.
"This is clearly a call to action to the health care community," said Dr. Jeffrey Rideout, Cisco's vice president of health care and chief medical director. "We need to . . . drive the adoption of cutting-edge services such as Internet video."
Separately, Microsoft executives cited an October study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that said 8 million people in the United States go online for health information every day. More than half of those people said a recent Internet search affected the way they take care of themselves or someone else, but 22 percent said they felt frustrated by an inability to find what they were looking for.
Help is on the way, albeit slowly. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has commissioned prototypes for a Nationwide Health Information Network architecture to let doctors share personal electronic health records in a standard way. Cisco is a member of two of the four consortia developing a prototype, the company said.
About 40 vendors showed products using the Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) for exchange of health care information. The CDA was created by Health Level Seven, an international health care standards group defining data formats. Another initiative, Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise, defines profiles for sharing standard health data.
In an attempt to push the process forward, Cisco last week formed its Community for Connected Health, an online forum dedicated to sharing best practices in digital health care. The free forum is part of a broader user's group for health care providers.
Microsoft, for its part, rolled out the first of a family of design guides and tool sets for developing standard health care applications. The tools are available at a new Microsoft Web site for health care specialists.
For its part, Sun announced a set of Java-based tools to create a master patient index as well as two applications that can share and archive lab information, such as diagnostic imaging files.
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