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University tapped by Microsoft for grant

From The Cavilier Daily
February 10, 2003

By Andrew Garrahan

The University received a $250,000 grant Jan. 15 from the Microsoft Corporation for the development of software to improve the University Medical Center's ability to maintain, access and secure patient records.

A team of University engineers, led by Computer Science Prof. Alf Weaver, was one of 157 groups to apply for the grant in November. Professor Weaver's team was one of 18 to receive funding from Microsoft.

The software will help the University implement the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which takes effect in April, Weaver said.

"I think it's going to help us provide universal access to medical records for those authorized to view them," he said.

Weaver, who currently teaches Introduction to Computer Science, also founded the Internet Technology Innovation Center at the University, which since has expanded to six other schools.

The software will be "open source," meaning it could be shared with the rest of the world, Weaver said.

The open source design is not expected to cause security issues, but could help to improve upon or expand the software after it has been created. Microsoft requested this openness in programming as part of its grant outline.

Once the software is in place, doctors and patients will be able to access records from their computers, palm pilots and cell phones, among other media.

Andrew Snyder, the head research assistant on the project, said he is writing his master's thesis on the problem of securing medical records. Especially problematic is the encryption and decryption of MRI scans, he said.

Snyder will on focus on "using an encryption that won't interrupt the workflow of the hospital," he said.

Sam Dwyer, a doctor in the Radiology Department at the Medical Center, is working with Weaver on the project.

"The whole issue is trying to put together an information management system for medical applications," Dwyer said.

He also said he was grateful to Microsoft for providing the University with this opportunity.

"Oh gosh, it's great," Dwyer said. "And Alf Weaver did a great service in writing that grant application."

Implementation of this type of software is critical for the medical system right now, Dwyer said.

"If you go get a test, the physician wants to know the outcome," he said.

The project also focuses on the increased security of medical records. While some labs at the Medical Center presently have fingerprint or iris-recognition systems, the new software could conceivably also use passwords, PIN numbers or even voice recognition.

The software, "Federated Secure Trust Networks for Distributed Healthcare IT Services," will be unveiled Nov. 2004.


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