Something is amiss in Portland, Ore., with a project to provide personal health records to millions of workers at some of the nation's largest employers.
Exactly what the problem is, the employer coalition, called Dossia, doesn't want the world to know.
Dossia asked an Oregon judge to seal court records in a case between it and Omnimedix Institute, the not-for-profit organization designated to develop the personal health-record system for the consortium.
The formation of Dossia was announced with considerable fanfare in December 2006 by its founders. They are Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer with more than 1.3 million workers; Applied Materials; BP America; Intel Corp. and Pitney Bowes. Between them, they claimed more than 2.5 million employees, dependents and retirees. A sixth corporation, giant pharmaceutical wholesaler, Cardinal Health, joined the Dossia coalition in February.
Piecing the story together from previously published reports, conversations with court and clerk's office employees in Multnomah County, Ore., and from the Web site of Omnimedix Institute, it would appear money is at least a reason for the demand for secrecy, if not the root of the dispute.
According to a court employee, on June 22, Circuit Court Judge Jean Maurer signed a temporary restraining order sought by Dossia against Omnimedix barring it from filing suit against Dossia except under court seal. Circuit Court Judge Edward Jones, who took over the case, extended the temporary restraining order on June 26 and set a three-hour hearing tommorow on Dossia's request for a preliminary injunction against Omnimedix. Jones also sealed all records for the case from June 26 forward, the court employee said.
According to an article by Information Week reporter Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, who broke the story last week, Dossia claimed in its court filings that it will "suffer immediate and irreparable harm" if Omnimedix reveals details of its contract with Dossia in an anticipated Omnimedix lawsuit, and that the parties are trying to settle the dispute in arbitration.
So far, officials on both sides of the lawsuits are keeping mum about the substance of the dispute.
"It's our policy to keep our relationships with our subcontractors in confidence per our agreement with them," said Shannon Love, spokeswoman for both Dossia and Intel. "Our documents are under seal."
J.D. Kleinke, chairman and chief executive officer of Omnimedix, based in Portland, said, "I can't talk about anything. Unfortunately, that is their intent. I can point to things on the public record."
Those things are listed in a news release posted on the Omnimedix Web site
that links to other publicly disclosed information about the Dossia project and the financial obligations of its members. Much of the Omnimedix statement is devoted to a list of links refuting a seemingly minor point made by an unnamed Dossia spokeswoman in McGee's story. According to McGee, the spokeswoman denied that Dossia had said its goal was to have 10 employer members.
One of the links in the Omnimedix release points to the transcript of testimony by Carolyn Walton, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, at a Jan. 27 public hearing before a subcommittee the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics. Walton told the NCVHS panel, "the business model for Dossia begins with the founder's initial contribution of ($1.5 million) apiece. The goal is to have 10 founding companies. Five were included in the initial press announcement."
The number of Dossia members remains at six, though Love, the Dossia-Intel spokeswoman, said the number could soon be eight. "We have two more onboard who have not been announced yet," Love said. If the two potential additional companies, both "pretty large," according to Love, are included, they would bring the total number of employees, dependents and retirees that could be offered PHRs under Dossia "to more than 5 million people."
Still, doing the math, $1.5 million times six is $9 million, or, times eight, is $12 million; neither of which is the $15 million Omnimedix in its public statement says was the amount of its contract with Dossia.
"Despite this shortfall of members, there have been no public announcements regarding any adjustments to the $15 million funding initially required for the project, as documented above," the Omnimedix statement said. "The $15 million value of Omnimedix's contract with Dossia is included in Dossia's legal filings against Omnimedix in Multnomah County Court."
Despite the brouhaha with Omnimedix, Love said, the employers "remain committed" to moving forward with providing their employees with PHRs, "and we expect to roll that out in 2007. We are in active discussions with a number of other partners and vendors." Asked who they might be, Love said, "It's premature to disclose that."
According to Austin, Texas-based psychiatrist Deborah Peel, founder of the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, finding a new IT vendor for Dossia won't solve the most pressing problem with employer-sponsored personal health records.
"PHRs will never truly be safe, secure or private until federal law protects the privacy of Americans' health information wherever it is stored and no matter what databank holds it," Peel said. "Currently PHRs are being designed and given to millions of employees and people with health insurance to facilitate the data-mining and sale of their electronic medical records. The privacy of PHRs depends on whatever promises your insurer or employer makes to younot on law. This makes them very dangerous. It is possible to design PHRs that have ironclad privacy protections due to multiple levels of encryption and public key infrastructure that prevent data-mining no matter which databank they are stored in. But ironclad privacy-protective PHRs are not what Aetna, Dossia, and most others are offering."
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