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Could an independent marketplace solve healthcare’s data-sharing problems?

The technology and standards are in place to make healthcare data shareable between providers, payers, companies and consumers. What’s keeping it from actually happening, according to entrepreneur Brian Baum, is a fair and sustainable business model around sharing health data, and an independent marketplace where it can happen. Baum is the founder and CEO of […]

The technology and standards are in place to make healthcare data shareable between providers, payers, companies and consumers. What’s keeping it from actually happening, according to entrepreneur Brian Baum, is a fair and sustainable business model around sharing health data, and an independent marketplace where it can happen.

Baum is the founder and CEO of vitaTrackr, a startup that’s hoping to unlock market demand for health data by serving as a neutral party whose purpose is to connect those who want it to those who have it.

“What’s happening right now is that a health system, a payer or a pharma company defines what its data needs are and then they go out and make connections to obtain that,” Baum explained. That’s inefficient because there are thousands of points on one side of the equation trying to connect with thousands of potential points on the other side of the equation.

“We intermediate the two parties and say, if you’re a health system, you make one data connection to us, define what sources you want and if appropriate which individuals you want data for, and then we are connected to the sources.”

Baum, a repeat health industry entrepreneur and a former principal at Ernst & Young’s healthcare practice, founded vitaTrackr out of the belief that the healthcare industry is approaching an era of “health data neutrality.” That means that the mere possession of health data would no longer be a competitive differentiator for organizations. In the world that the company envisions, consumers would have more control over who is authorized to see their identified or de-identified data.

It would work like this: Organizations that collect data (a lab, for example, or a health kiosk company) would register in vitaTrackr’s marketplace by defining what data it’s collecting and how it interacts with the owners of that data. On the flip side, organizations that are looking for data would register by defining what levels of authorization they have for data, what kind of data they need, and how they obtain authorization for access to that data. VitaTrackr does the matching and facilitates the exchange, taking a transaction fee in the process and giving a piece of it to the data provider.

Baum explained one potential scenario where a large employer gives discounts on health insurance premiums to employees who make progress on improving their health or staying healthy. The health plans (via the employer) would be the recipients in vitaTrackr’s marketplace. The data providers would be different kiosks or retail clinics where employees would have periodic weigh-ins or blood pressure screenings and authorize their data to be released to the insurance provider.

With a clearly defined vision, Baltimore-based vitaTrackr is working on assembling a network. It’s invited more than 60 providers, medical device companies, EMR vendors, pharmacies, health plans and other stakeholders to be part of its founding team. These organizations would be part owners in the company and representatives of their industry segments.

“The benefit is this marketplace isn’t owned by one health plan or overly oriented to the needs of one sector,” Baum said. “We want the organizations that provide products and services to create the value propositions and they sell to their customers, and we’re an enabler.”

He anticipates that by the middle of May, about 20 organizations will have committed to being part of the marketplace.

“Our goal is to have all of those organizations focus on what they do as a business and just use data to enhance that,” Baum said. “They could compete on the value that they add to data, as opposed to simply having access to it.”

It’s an ambitious and optimistic undertaking, but Baum thinks that once a core network is built, the marketplace could take off very quickly. “Once the era of health data neutrality is in motion, the scramble will be to connect, not to remain on an island.”