In a move to increase the interoperability of healthcare information technology systems, IT giant IBM says it will release patents on its intellectual property covering selected software healthcare applications, throwing them open for use by standards-setting bodies without threat of patent infringement.
Healthcare industry leaders, particularly heads of provider organizations such as hospitals, "look around the IT industry and see a lot of innovation and costs being reduced, and then they look at healthcare, and they don't see a lot of those trends," said Neil de Crescenzo, vice president of global healthcare for IBM business consulting services. IBM's decision will make it easier for IT standards-setting bodies to do their work in a more open environment, he said.
For example, one of the 40,000 patents held by IBM governs a process for electronic information triage, differentiating between a request for a medical record coming from an emergency room physician from that of a routine office inquiry. Under IBM's new open policy, if a standards-development organization such as Health Level 7 seeks to incorporate that triage utility in its communications standards, it can use the IBM process without fear of infringement of the company's intellectual property rights, de Crescenzo said.
The company also announced it was releasing patents on intellectual property in the field of education.
The move by IBM comes as the company seeks to redefine itself as a provider of technology services. It also comes as the federal government, through the creation of the American Health Information Community and other efforts to promote IT, attempts to influence the setting of healthcare IT standards for communication and the shape of a national healthcare IT architecture.
"I think IBM has real national concerns and issues about healthcare and education and they're trying to be a good corporate citizen," said Scott Wallace, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago-based National Alliance for Health Information Technology, a coalition of healthcare entities formed to advance IT adoption and use. "The other thing they are doing is they realize that standards are going to be agreed to through AHIC, and they realized that if they continue to hang onto proprietary information, it may become obsolete."