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12/1/2010
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IBM Expands Telehealth Partnership With American Well

Customized versions of American Well's Online Care application aim to improve the security of patients' personal health information.




Slideshow: Wireless Telehealth Brings Medical Help To Those In Need
(click for larger image and for full slideshow)

IBM and telehealth firm American Well have expanded their partnership to further embed security into American Well's Online Care system by integrating IBM's professional security services and skills into American Well's application development process.

American Well's Online Care system provides web-based technology and telephony that allows consumers to connect live and on-demand with healthcare providers from their homes or offices. Online Care is currently offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Hawaii, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, OptumHealth (a business of UnitedHealth Group) and TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

According to Dan Pelino, IBM's general manager healthcare and life sciences, the expanded partnership gives IBM the chance to further improve security for American Well's technology by developing customized versions of its Online Care application for each client. The expanded relationship also helps IBM's healthcare strategy.

"Our work with American Well aligns with IBM's smarter healthcare vision and specifically addresses an area in our portfolio where our clients and even patients have a growing need," Pelino told InformationWeek. "IBM believes that significant healthcare industry transformation and improvement is possible through the use of technology like this and IBM is bringing our healthcare and security expertise as well as our expertise in working with the major health plans to support American Well."

American Well's relationship with IBM started in 2008 when the company selected IBM to perform in-depth application vulnerability assessments for several of their customer, patient and provider web applications to identify potential security issues. These assessments verify tasks including transmission security, authentication, session management and passwords, and provide a high-level architecture review.

IBM says its assessments help identify potential security issues and eliminate possible vulnerabilities before they occur. The assessments also check to see that American Well's system protects personal health information (PHI) and remains in compliance with data security guidelines.

"All of American Well's Online Care products are built using a secure development framework, verified through a continuous vulnerability assessment process," Jason Medeiros, VP of hosting at American Well, said in a statement. "Through our partnership with IBM, our clients have the assurance and required confidence that their patient information is secure amidst an ever-changing threat landscape."

As the healthcare industry moves away from paper-based systems to electronic health records (EHRs), and as new health information exchanges (HIEs) are developed, the safety of patient information that is exchanged electronically will be a critical component to the success of a modern healthcare system.

According to Pelino, the current models of delivering healthcare are no longer sustainable partly because of a growing elderly population and an expected rise in the number of patients with chronic illnesses. These trends will give rise to an increasing demand for telehealth services.

"For a while now we've seen the adoption of telehealth for consultation among specialists such as radiologists, but in other fields adoption has been slow. This is due in part to reimbursement models," Pelino said. "As the nation continues to gray, as new methods of reimbursement become based on the quality of care not just on the quantity of visits, and with the roll out of health information exchanges across the country, we believe telehealth will become even more mainstream."

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