CMA, AMA Battle Over Competing Internet Security Systems
The California Medical Association and the American Medical Association are locked in a "high-tech competition" to "provide electronic 'passports' or codes to verify the identity of doctors who communicate by e-mail or the Internet," the Fresno Bee reports. To help providers meet new federal privacy regulations taking effect in April 2003, the CMA has backed MedePass Inc. in its development of a physician identification system. Using MedePass technology, patient information is encrypted and "can be opened only by another person with a valid electronic identification;" the "authenticity of a doctor" is verified using a doctor referral system, in which "anchor" doctors in each county "vouch for a fellow physician's identity." According to Dr. Terry Forte, president and chief scientist of MedePass, roughly 4,000 doctors have requested a MedePass certificate. Dr. Marie Kuffner, the CMA's immediate past president, said that the 34,000-member organization had hoped that the AMA would help promote the MedePass system to its 300,000 members. However, the AMA announced last month it had joined with VeriSign, Inc., which offers an encryption service similar to MedePass's, but instead of a doctor referral system employs a "nationwide database of licensed physicians" to verify identity. The CMA currently has an agreement with VeriSign, but is ending the arrangement on June 1
Kuffner, speaking last week at a Fresno-Madera Medical Society meeting, said that the CMA had shared proprietary information with the AMA about the MedePass system, and was "caught off-guard" by the AMA's deal with VeriSign, adding, "We were way ahead of the curve on the technology. And now here we have our own family in competition." However, Robert Musacchio, AMA senior vice president of business, publishing and membership services, downplayed the significance of the split with the CMA. He said that the AMA had launched its own identification system in 2000, with about 1,500 physicians having signed up, and that the VeriSign agreement was signed in order to create a "second-generation" product. Saying that two separate systems could encourage competition, he added, "A physician could have an AMA certificate and a MedePass certificate. It's no different than if I have a VISA or an American Express card." Still, Dr. Virgil Airola, the president of the Fresno society, said that the dispute between the two associations could wind up in court. "It is unfortunate that CMA and AMA will not work together to develop a shared technology, owned, operated, and verified by physician organizations," he said (Anderson, Fresno Bee, 5/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.