Medical group to widen online system for doctors

The American Medical Association (AMA) today announced plans to expand the capabilities of an online system for exchanging sensitive patient data and processing medical transactions through a deal with technology vendor VeriSign Inc.

Doctors who use the AMA's Internet identification service will eventually be able to sign on and run Web-based transactions from any location, according to the Chicago-based medical industry group. Users will also have the ability to encrypt or digitally sign data from any desktop system with Internet access and to delegate some online tasks to their office staffs.

The Internet ID service went live in December as a way to authenticate doctors' ID for doing business online. The AMA initially used technology developed by Intel Corp. Now, the AMA said, Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign has purchased a license for the Intel-developed technology and will work with the association to add new features.

The expanded service will be based on a new set of Internet authentication technologies that VeriSign introduced earlier this month. Other new features will include real-time authentication capabilities and an outsourced authentication service offering aimed at health care companies, the AMA said. In addition, the association plans to develop a new secure e-mail service based on the VeriSign technology.

The expanded Internet ID system and the e-mail service are both scheduled to go live in the third quarter, according to today's announcement. VeriSign said the AMA will be the first user to implement the new authentication technology, which is built based on a series of XML-based application programming interfaces.

Robert Musacchio, the AMA's senior vice president of business and membership, said in a statement that the expanded authentication offerings will provide physicians with "a trusted environment and a host of new features and benefits that will make it easier for them to shift more patient-sensitive work online."

The Internet ID service works by asking doctors and medical students interested in using it a series of personal questions that are then used to verify their identities when they log on to the system. The nationwide service also offers Web-based applications such as claims filing, patient charting and electronic prescriptions. The AMA said the service currently has about 294,000 users.

Data privacy and security issues have become a top priority for doctors and health care organizations doing business online due to new requirements mandated by a set of federal regulations that took effect this month under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Companies have two years to comply with the privacy rules, which were first announced in December.

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