A software system that enables healthcare providers to access clinical records through the World Wide Web is undergoing field trials at two hospitals and a set of rural clinics in Huntington, W.Va.
The system was developed by a research unit of West Virginia University through a $4 million contract awarded by the National Library of Medicine in 1994.
That project tested the feasibility of using the Internet to locate, retrieve and assemble digital records from multiple sites by using a Web browser, said Ramana Reddy, principal investigator of the project.
A new contract awarded by the NLM on Oct. 1, worth $3.7 million, aims to demonstrate the viability of secure clinical telemedicine via public computer networks and measure how it can result in cost savings and improved access to quality care for rural populations, the university said.
If the outcome of the research is successful, Reddy said his goal is to have the system, called Artemis, available commercially in 12 to 18 months.
Different encryption technologies will be tested to determine the time added to transmissions and the varying levels of encryption needed depending on type and sens itivity of the message, he said.
The project also will explore the technology of public and private "keys" to authenticate and securely send messages, and it will test a security concept that involves splitting messages into piece s and reassembling them at their destination, Reddy said.
The Concurrent Engineering Research Center, the unit of Morgantown-based West Virginia University that was awarded the contract, will collaborate with a consortium of state healthcare providers, medical products companies, and experts on medical, legal and business issues.
Among the subcontractors is Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy facility researching telemedicine.
The Web-based system is being tested at clinics run by Valley Health Systems in southern West Virginia, and at St. Mary's Hospital and Cabell Huntington Hospital.The system's ultimate goal is to make patient tests and records available to physicians in remote areas and allow rural doctors to consult with and refer patients to specialists on line, Reddy said.
As long as the information is in electronic form, the system would allow doctors to search for prior records in distant locations, identify themselves as physicians through an authentication process, and be able to retrieve and assemble the records needed for a particular case, he said.
The main objective is to reduce the disadvantages of time and distance under which rural practitioners must operate to gather the necessary information and expertise to act on a patient's problem, Reddy said.
But the project has yet to prove the technology will make a difference. "We will have to demonstrate that the timeliness of information will lead to better care," he said.