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By Nancy Weil, IDG News Service

April 15, 2003 | The convergence of life sciences and IT, now in its early stages, means that we’ll live longer because doctors have better access to data that will help them prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases, said Caroline Kovac, general manager of IBM’s life sciences group.

Profound changes in medical care will initially happen not in doctors’ offices but at research facilities and large pharmaceutical companies with collaborative projects that lead to massive databases of information about patients, Kovac said. Those stores of data will be tapped into by those involved in healthcare, including pharma companies that will develop better, safer clinical trials. Kovac calls this future healthcare system “information-based medicine.” (Some have suggested IBM prefers this tag because its acronym is “IBM,” but Kovac said it took the life sciences group three weeks to realize that.) Sequencing the human genome marked “the race to the starting line,” and signaled the start of major new projects related to creating databases of information that, for example, can be used to figure out who is likely to come down with certain diseases. “This whole issue of genealogy and population data is going to be very important,” she said.

One of the biggest challenges ahead is building the infrastructure for electronic medical-records databases. Those exist now but are often used for billing and to track matters such as “who had surgery this morning,” Kovac said. But in the future, the difference is that doctors will actually use such databases, which eventually will be a combination of patient records and genomic records.

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