Wednesday, June 17, 2009

General Electric Plays General Hospital

The doctor is in. And he'll have easy access to your medical history. Thank goodness!
I'm talking about General Electric. The good doctor is putting $100 million of interest-free funds from its GE Capital arm into the hands of healthcare providers around the country. The idea is to spread the use of electronic health records as fast as possible, for the benefit of everyone.

Doctors and primary care centers will win because GE gives them a low-risk and low-cost way to move into the future of health records management. Patients win when we can go from one doctor to another with a battery of medical tests along the way -- and every provider will know my story so far. No more unnecessary duplicate tests, no missing information, and probably fewer forms to fill out in every new waiting room.

And of course, GE won't go empty-handed from this philanthropic exchange. Most, if not all, of these funds will turn around and be reinvested in GE's own medical record-keeping systems. The company also wants to help its customers meet the as-yet uncertain requirements for more funding under President Obama's HITECH Act. So GE is really dipping a finger into the federal stimulus till here. Everybody goes home happy.

The industry is awash in electronic medical history tools from every corner of Silicon Valley and beyond. Google has a good-looking information-doling service with well-respected partners including CVS (NYSE: CVS), the Cleveland Clinic, and Quest Diagnostics. Microsoft's HealthVault can boast the Mayo Clinic among its data providers.

Heck, even networking expert Cisco Systems is fighting to rescue our medical histories from "disconnected information systems using incompatible formats and disparate medical terminology" through its Medical Data Exchange Solution platform. All of the big boys of technology seem to have skin in this game.

Not a moment too soon, either. The technology is maturing just as the Greatest Generation is picking out golf clubs and Floridian condos. Perfect timing, I say. On a personal level, I have to deal with a lot of doctors and test services these days, and would love to see them simply exchanging digital information behind the scenes. It's too easy to forget some vital test reading or MRI film when heading out the door.

There will probably be industry standards at some point, and then the pacesetters get to collect license fees as everyone else converts to those protocols. My money is on Google, because nobody handles information better than Big G. But all of these services should end up making money before it's all said and done.

(Disclosure: Anders owns shares of Google. Don't worry, he's not dying -- just severely inconvenienced by Multiple Sclerosis.)

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