After a languid pace of development over more than two years, a new data warehouse created by the American Medical Group Association received a big boost earlier this month when industry heavyweight Siemens Medical Solutions signed on as the newest partner in the venture.
Siemens, a leading technology supplier to the healthcare industry, will provide information technology infrastructure and support services for the development of Anceta, a for-profit AMGA subsidiary that expects to build the nation's largest data warehouse of patient information over the next three years.
Anceta, formed in collaboration with two other corporate powerhouses-Aventis Pharmaceuticals and Accenture-will assemble a database housing records from as many as 10 million patients affiliated with approximately two dozen big multispecialty medical groups, making it one of the biggest of its kind in the U.S., according to AMGA officials.
"Things are beginning to pick up," said Jeffrey Hill, Anceta's chief executive officer. "Now we're figuring out the best way to make this a commercial exercise."
Donald Fisher, the AMGA's president and CEO, calls it the only database of its kind in the nation that provides longitudinal data over several years from patients who are seeing the same doctors. In the past, he said, "Much of this kind of information was available from claims data," but there were considerable gaps because patients changed insurance companies and physicians.
He said the database has the potential to generate "hundreds of millions of dollars" in revenue per year.
Hill said the AMGA and Siemens, which employs about 31,000 people and operates in 120 countries, have similar visions about analyzing and bench-marking patient data to help "change the way medicine is practiced."
"Everybody knows the value of this information to the healthcare industry," he said.
Neither company would disclose Siemens' financial stake in the venture, which was announced in conjunction with the AMGA's annual conference earlier this month in New Orleans. AMGA officials have pegged the total cost of the project at about $50 million.
Much of the revenue Anceta could generate would come from selling the comprehensive benchmarking data to employers, government, biotechnology companies, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms and others while making the same information available without charge to the approximately 300 medical groups that make up its membership. Those members, which include most of the larger medical groups, represent more than 50 million patients (May 6, 2002, p. 24).
Hill said all patient infor- mation will be de-identified and that Anceta's collection processes and "scrubbing" operations conform to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requirements. The AMGA is not worried that the information will be used by drug companies or others to target or influence doctors or their patients, he said.
"Our members are not concerned," he said. "There is a tight rein on what data goes out and how it's used. Pharmaceutical companies can target physicians in a lot of other ways."
Despite those assurances, privacy advocates and consumer groups have raised concerns in the past about whether the identities of the patients in the database can be protected. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, has questioned the propriety of providing such private medical information to third parties.
Hill said medical groups would only be identified if they choose to be. Patients would be identified only if they approved the release through their physician as part of a clinical trial.
Officials at the Alexandria, Va.-based AMGA have described the venture as one of the "most ambitious initiatives in the history of healthcare informatics," a comprehensive warehouse that will include comparative data for practice management, clinical and product performance, health outcomes and economics. The warehouse represents the next horizon for healthcare in applying information technology to quality of care, Fisher said.
Anceta, named after the Roman goddess of healing, completed a pilot project in March 2003 that involved several large multispecialty medical groups and about 1.8 million patient records. With Siemens' support, the company will embark on a production-level data warehouse expected to include about 10 medical groups and more than 4 million patients. Officials hope to reach Anceta's target of 10 million Americans by 2007.
"There is a good market for this-everybody's talking about this market," Hill said.