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Winter 1997

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Winter 97 > Article

A Rx for Paperwork
by Catherine Gianaro

Amit Sheth is tackling one of the largest piles of paperwork in the world - America's health care system - and he's using the state of Connecticut as his guinea pig.

As a UGA associate professor of computer science, Sheth and his colleagues Krys Kochut and John Miller are developing computer technology that will share health data over the Internet and reduce the amount of paper pushed by the nation's hospitals, doctors and insurance companies.

"If health care expenses can be contained, it will affect the entire economy," Sheth said, citing figures that show health care accounts for as much as 10 percent of the U.S. economy - and paperwork consumes about a third of that.

"Within every business, a large chunk of change is used for employee health care," Sheth said. "We're trying to address the efficiency of transferring information in that system."

His research is part of a $5 million project - the Healthcare Information Infrastructure Technology (HIIT) program - that links numerous health care organizations via the Internet. HIIT, a project sponsored by the Healthcare Open Systems and Trial Consortium, is funded by both the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards in Technology and the health care industry to improve the quality of America's health care system in the most cost-effective way.

With the help of several graduate students, Sheth developed software that will be tested by the Connecticut Healthcare Research and Education Foundation, or CHREF, which is a membership organization that serves 110 hospitals and clinics throughout the state.

"The trial involves potential end-users - doctors or hospital administrators - who might be involved in assessing the technology," Sheth said.

Sheth also is designing additional applications to use with the new software. For example, he already has created a computer system to track Connecticut's immunization process. "CHREF helped us design this application by defining what the industry needed," he said.

Sheth's software addresses one of the health care industry's primary concerns: sharing information among different computer systems. The CHREF software will interpret each hospital's or clinic's database "using existing information systems," he said.

The new software, which will augment the standard for encoding business documents, can access a database without altering it. For example, if a hospital sends a billing request to an insurance company, the insurance company can respond with a separate transaction, leaving the original transaction undisturbed.
Sheth also is developing technology to address three security issues that are essential in the health care industry:

  • communication - preventing transactions from being intercepted as they move from one place to another;
  • authentication - assuring you are who you say you are when you log in; and
  • authorization - allowing, for instance, only a specific doctor to access the result of an AIDS test.

"We are developing other applications and making our software more sophisticated to prevent security breaches," he said.

The CHREF project will benefit more than just a group of Connecticut hospitals. Other states are looking at it as a potential model, and the project has been a catalyst for the development of additional computer capability at the University of Georgia.

"One of the advantages to UGA is that this project has enabled the university to establish the Large Scale Distributed Information Systems lab, as well as the computing environment and surrounding infrastructure," Sheth said.

With $1,350,000 in federal and matching funds, the project also has enabled UGA graduate students "to interact with industry because they are our partner," he said. The students work with the latest computer products as well. "We have had over $200,000 worth of software donated to us in the past year. The students are not just doing concepts. They are able to take the technology and demonstrate it to industry."

For more information, access http://lsdis.cs.uga.edu/.


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