Tools to be developed to help medical groups better use the Internet


Johns Hopkins and about a dozen societies for medical specialties launched a project yesterday to develop tools to help the medical groups use the Internet better.

"The Internet has not necessarily been a friendly place for the societies," which have "invested money and effort in isolation" to try to provide services to doctors, said Dr. Peter S. Greene, associate dean for emerging technologies at the university's school of medicine.

Greene will be the executive director of MedBiquitous Consortium - "med" for "medical," of course, and "biquitous" from "ubiquitous," meaning existing everywhere. MedBiquitous is to commission software and develop common standards that the medical groups can use for such purposes as offering continuing education and testing, collecting outcomes data and publishing online academic journals.

Hopkins initiated the project, Greene said, because, "you want your faculty to be innovative. You want to be leaders in defining how the Internet changes health care."

Hopkins has previously been involved with a Web site that provided health information for consumers and with a service that provided information to doctors over the Internet. Hopkins pulled out of the consumer site last year; the second service ran into financial problems.

Dr. Edward D. Miller, chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine and dean of the medical school, said the idea for the latest Internet project grew out of a retreat three years ago. In considering how to move forward, he said, Hopkins came to realize that "societies are the natural point of contact for medical professionals."

Other founding members include professional societies for family physicians, thoracic surgeons, ophthalmologists, otolaryngologists, pediatricians, oncologists and vascular surgeons, as well as the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, an umbrella group.

Pooling their efforts will allow the development of better tools than any of the societies could do separately, and a common standard will allow easy exchange of information, Green said.

The group will draw on technical expertise from IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Rational Software Corp.

The nonprofit consortium will be based in the World Trade Center, along with two related organizations: the MedBiquitous Laboratory, which will develop new Internet tools, and the for-profit MedBiquitous Services Inc., which will provide Web hosting and other services to the consortium. Hopkins will own part of the services company, according to Greene, with the lead investor being Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc., a $5-billion-a-year company that manufactures medical equipment and devices.

The project will begin with a $2.5 million budget for the first year, primarily from membership fees paid by the societies and by participating companies. The three entities have 16 employees, but that should triple within a year, Greene said.

Since the consortium will begin by agreeing on standards and having software developed, he said, it will be "a few years" before there is "broad adoption" of the new tools.

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