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IBM, Google launch alliance to boost patient data access

BY Jim Frederick

ARMONK, N.Y. A partnership among two giants of automation and a provider of personal health information tools will add new muscle to Google’s year-old online health record service for patients, the three companies announced in February.

The collaboration involves IBM, Google and Continua Health Alliance, a globally recognized organization set up to develop integrated personal healthcare products and solutions. Together, the partners are using newly developed software from IBM to broaden patients’ access to their own personal health records – and enrich that data with new information from such health monitors as blood pressure machines and glucose testing devices.

IBM developed the software based on guidelines from Continua, while Google provides the platform for patients to access the data. That platform, launched last May under the name Google Health, allows users to store, manage and share their medical records and personal health information securely online. The service is free to users and available online at www.google.com/health.

Under terms of the partnership, the new IBM software will enable personal medical devices used for patient monitoring, screening and routine evaluation to automatically stream data results into a patients’ Google Health Account or other personal health record.

“This breakthrough extends the value of PHRs to consumers, and also helps to ensure that such records are current and accurate at all times,” noted IBM. “Once stored in a PHR, the data can also be shared with physicians and other members of the [patient’s] extended care network.”

IBM’s software connects personal medical devices to Google Health and other health-record systems. The new online tool “will allow patients to exchange vital health information with their doctors and other health services professionals more easily and in real-time,” noted IBM spokeswoman Gina Jesberg. “As a result, health professionals can provide more timely feedback to patients on their conditions, suggest treatments and help improve overall quality of life.

“For example, a busy mom can receive daily electronic updates on the health status of an aging parent who lives alone, is suffering from high blood pressure and is on multiple medications. A traveling businessperson who is diabetic and training for a marathon can have a real-time discussion about her blood sugar levels and heart rate with her coach hundreds of miles away,” Jesberg said.

Google Health director Sameer Samat said the partnership with IBM “will help both providers and users gain access to their device data in a highly simplified and automated fashion.”

Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry, said the new alliance harnesses “the rapidly growing use of remote patient monitoring across every part of the healthcare services industry,” and boosts “the real-time value of PHRs for consumers everywhere.”

The move comes in the midst of an epidemic in such chronic diseases and conditions as obesity – and amid a rapidly aging population. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people older than 60 will reach 1.2 billion by 2025. “With close to a quarter of the world’s population overweight, more than 600 million people with some form of chronic disease and millions more reaching retirement age, the time for greater personal health management is now,” said Dave Whitlinger, Continua president.

IBM’s new alliance with Google isn’t its first foray into the complex and legally fraught world of patient data-sharing and paperless prescribing. The computer giant is among several software companies that have worked in recent years to convert paper prescription files and digitize them for centralized storage and data-sharing.

Google drew praise last year from some pharmacy advocates for its launch of Google Health. Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin called the trend to online access by patients of their own health records “another step toward engaging the patient and making it easier for them to take control of their health care. That’s where health care is heading,” he added. “Part of controlling the costs in health care is providing patients with access to information.”

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Walgreens set to expand distribution capacity

BY Jim Frederick

WOBORN, Mass. Walgreens is expanding the distribution capacity at its Mt. Vernon, Ill.-based distribution center by adding more portable robotic picking devices and upgrading many of its traditional conveyor-based systems into automated zones for sortation and movement of items to be shipped.

Walgreens uses the Kiva Mobile Fulfillment System from Kiva Systems in Mt. Vernon to store inventory and pick replenishment orders for its 6,700 stores and specialty pharmacies. Expanding the system in that distribution center puts nearly 1,000 mobile robots under a single roof, according to Kiva.

The upgrade marks the third expansion of the robotic picking system at the center since its initial deployment in 2007, Kiva noted. It also heralds a doubling of the throughput capacity at the center, the company reports.

“Productivity metrics from previous rollouts far exceeded Walgreens’ specifications for pick rate, accuracy, cycle time, tote utilization and installation time,” said Kiva CEO Mick Mountz. “By doubling capacity we expect Walgreens to quickly achieve an extraordinary new level of strategic competitive advantage and productivity.”

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Congress takes up follow-on biologics bill

BY Drug Store News Team

The long-awaited breakthrough for follow-on biologics may be close at hand.

Prompted by a far more supportive President and the growing crisis in healthcare funding, Congress has again taken up the call for a bill that would create a regulatory pathway for FDA approval of generic versions of biologically-engineered drugs. And with the strong affirmation of President Obama, who has campaigned for such an approval pathway, the newest iteration of the bill stands a far better chance of passage than previous attempts in the House and Senate.

The Promoting Innovation and Access to Life-Saving Medicine Act could mark the most significant change to the delicate balance of power between the branded and generic drug industries since passage of the landmark Hatch/Waxman compromise bill in 1984, which ushered in the modern era of me-too medicines. Tellingly, one of the new bill’s sponsors is an architect of that 1984 legislation, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

The push for follow-on biologics augers well for both health plan payers and patients coping with the sometimes staggering costs of critically important but expensive pioneer biologics, and for the generic drug industry itself as it faces a critical shortage of new marketing opportunities as the number of blockbuster drugs facing patent expirations dries up. A new pipeline of me-too biologics could help fill the gap.

“With countless patients struggling to pay the high costs of brand biopharmaceuticals, an approval pathway for safe, effective and affordable biogeneric medicines that provides access sooner rather than later is desperately needed,” stated Kathleen Jaeger, president and CEO, Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

Cost-saving considerations aside, there’s no disputing the business potential follow-on biologics represent. Bio-engineered pharmaceuticals and specialized, highly targeted medications aimed at serious chronic or life-threatening diseases represent the only major bright spot right now in the global pharmaceutical market, with growth rates that far outpace the sluggish market for mainline meds. Indeed, most of the drugs that have reached blockbuster status in recent years have been biologically engineered specialty meds.

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