A broadly accepted electronic health record (EHR). Such a system has been fully described, kicked around, bandied about, called for, demanded and funded — at the federal level, at least, by President George Bush, then defunded, with new funding promised for next year.

But such a system, broadly adapted, has been slow to develop and yet to happen.

Now, the newest effort to push such a system has been launched by GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin) along with prestigious hospital system Intermountain Health Care (IHC; Salt Lake City). The two organizations have combined to develop an EHR that is best practice-based, uses broadly accepted national standards and will accelerate, they hope, adoption of such a system countrywide.

GE and IHC yesterday unveiled their collaborative determination to produce such a system, with the timing of the announcement apparently intended to put an exclamation mark in the final day of activities at the annual conference and exhibition of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS; Chicago) in Dallas.

Vishal Wanchoo, president and CEO of GE Healthcare Information Technologies (GEHIT), bannered the proposed project as creating software that offers “a building block for the country's most wide-reaching healthcare IT system.“

In a teleconference to outline the agreement, Wanchoo said the need for a large national effort in this area is necessary “to manage the explosion of data emerging throughout the healthcare industry.“ Its emphasis, he said, will be to create a system that will provide access to “universal healthcare information any time at the point of care.“

The effort will be wide-ranging indeed, given the participants.

GE will provide its Centricity software platform across the various departments and institutions of IHC's network, which includes 92 clinics/physicians' offices and 21 hospitals in Utah and Idaho. The IHC system serves more than 2 million patients.

Andrea Kozak, head of public relations for GEHIT, said that the agreement with IHC is estimated to be worth about $100 million over a “multi-year period.“ The various details, such as the exact length of the accord, will be hammered out over the next 30 days, she said.

“We think this agreement is very important,“ Kozak told Medical Device Daily. GEHIT will establish an office within the hospital's facility and will commit up to 60 personnel at IHC to the effort, “working directly and daily interacting“ with its staff, she said. And she cited the extent of this staffing commitment as a major indicator of how critical the company sees the agreement, which she said will be focused, for GE's part, on developing commercialized products.

Mark Probst, chief information officer for IHC, put less emphasis on the future commercial possibilities of the agreement, but said it will be important for completing the hospital system's database effort and providing broader access to it.

“Our discussions began about six months ago when IHC determined that we desired a partner to complete our information system,“ Probst told MDD.

Of the many companies IHC talked to, it found GE to be “just right,“ he said. “We built our system from the bottom up, and [GEHIT] has been focusing on applications — it's a marriage.“

Probst said that IHC has “at least 30 years of experience applying information systems to healthcare“ and has developed “a longitudinal medical repository“ containing data on more than 4 million patients, plus a dictionary. The repository and dictionary are used, he said, by “all employed physicians“ of IHC.

The proposed IT system will “simplify an approach to ensuring that all facilities, large and small, urban and rural, have the most comprehensive, coordinated access to state-of-the-art, best practice support,“ Probst explained. Thus, physicians at a “tertiary children's hospital could receive expert information on the best course of treatment,“ he said, offering just one example of its utility for areas with limited healthcare facilities.

Pressed as to why such a system might be adopted more widely — perhaps to the entire nation — where other such initiatives have fallen short, Probst pointed to the breadth and depth of the IHC database and the ability to make that information quickly accessible with the applications expertise provided by GEHIT.

“Timely access to [healthcare] information is the great equalizer,“ he said. “This is an opportunity to provide a standard for the industry.“

While a recent HIMSS survey pointed to increased “readiness“ of healthcare IT professionals to put EHRs in place, there has been little broad acceptance and interoperability of such systems.

During the teleconference, Greg Poulsen, senior vice president for IHC, cited a figure of “less than 15%“ of healthcare providers in “developed countries“ adopting healthcare IT systems — a figure suggesting even less intense adoption of EHRs. He said this also provided “an opportunity to set the standard for the industry to follow.“

GE officials said they would “absolutely“ use current open standards and adapt other generally accepted standards “as they evolve.“

GE's Centricity software will form the backbone of the envisioned solution, providing workflow automation, clinical documentation, decision support and quality assurance tools to support the proposed EHR.

“What will be unique about our collaboration,“ said Brandon Savage, general manager, enterprise systems for GE Healthcare, “is that IHC physicians, nurses and clinicians will provide clinical knowledge that GE's engineers will put in their company's IT format to use across the country. The design will actually be directed by those who work in the field and will use this technology every day.“

IHC is a charitable, community-owned, non-profit healthcare organization in operation for 30 years. Research firm Verispan (Yardley, Pennsylvania) recently named IHC as the nation's No. 1 “integrated health network.“