Mammography repository offers access to health data

Women in the U.S. now have access to their own electronic mammography records through the National Digital Medical Archive (NDMA), according to an announcement Friday by IBM and i3 Archive Inc.

The service, called MyNDMA, allows women to register a profile and then gain access to mammograms or diagnostic test results, which could be useful for patients who move or change physicians, said Diane Hockstein, vice president of consumer affairs at i3 Archive in Berwyn, Pa. The annual subscription fee is US$14.95, with a $25 charge to digitize a film-based mammogram.

The NDMA has been used to store mammogram records since 1999, and it now contains 1 million images, said Derek Danois, CEO of i3 Archive. Doctors and hospitals have used the repository to compare healthy tissue with potentially cancerous tissue, he said, and women who subscribe to the service can decide whether to allow their data to be used for research. Personally identifying information is removed if they take part in the research effort.

IBM and i3 worked with the University of Pennsylvania to create the archive using grid computing storage techniques, Danois said. Research for the project lasted three years during the 1990s and was supported by $16 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, Danois said. Privately held i3 has since invested more than $2 million on its own. It relies on two storage facilities in Los Angeles and Secaucus, N.J., that replicate the mammography data using IBM eServer xSeries hardware.

IBM's DB2 Universal Database and disk storage systems are also being used in the effort.

Danois said i3 sees the potential to add other types of data-rich medical records in the future. The i3 technology used in the project includes special software designed to make the database work more efficiently as well as xSeries servers in 24 hospitals that can access the database along with data repositories in those hospitals, he said. In addition, i3 has developed a protocol to more efficiently transfer large files over DSL and cable modem lines into the hospitals.