10/11/99- Updated 11:45 PM ET
By Janet Kornblum, USA TODAY
Computer chip giant Intel will announce a new service Tuesday to electronically identify doctors and patients so they can conduct sensitive business on the Internet, such as sharing results of medical tests.
Insuring the confidentiality of medical records has been a major stumbling block for companies seeking to offer shared medical services online.
Intel says its service, which will be available in 2000 and use private codes given to doctors, patients and other health care providers, has a much higher degree of security than most other kinds of transactions, such as e-mail or Internet credit card purchases. That's because there will be more steps involved in verifying the users' identities, Intel says.
The process is so sensitive that Intel executives will say only that the computer servers are hidden in Arizona.
The American Medical Association will help deliver the protected codes to its doctors. Many others will have to agree to use the ID for the system to become a standard.
But even if the company makes online security airtight for medical records, doctors still have a long way to go before they catch up with patients in the online world, according to people who have been watching the digital medical world mature.
"It's just a whole lot easier to get hold of something if it's an electronic record," says Marilyn Field of the Institute of Medicine, which advises the government on medical issues.
Many physicians already are on the Internet, although not necessarily practicing medicine there. Forty-five percent of all Internet users have sought health care information there, says Jupiter Communications. And 48% would like to communicate with their doctor's office via e-mail, a Cyber Dialogue survey released Tuesday says.