Big Blue Will See You Now

I think we've all been there at one time or another: sitting partially unclothed in a hospital or medical clinic room, waiting for a doctor to see us. There are a variety of reasons for this nearly universal experience. Sometimes it's because the doctors themselves have to wait for test results to come back from the lab, but more often, the delay can be attributed to the incredible inefficiencies that exist within today's medical system.

A few weeks back, I explained how 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) was working with both the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Army to tag tissue samples and medical records with RFID tags to better track patient test results and personnel files in an effort to speed up some aspects of health-care delivery.

The tags, though, are just the beginning of a wave of technologies that should help streamline America's health-care system in the years ahead. Yesterday, IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) announced another important development along these lines when it unveiled a new medical-records search engine that will compile an individual's medical records from any number of hospitals, doctors' offices, pharmacies, and laboratories.

Recently, a number of large corporations -- including Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , BP (NYSE: BP  ) , and Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT  ) -- announced that they would be pumping an undisclosed amount of money into a massive database called "Dossia," which would help employees better manage their health-care information and, in the process, hopefully help companies reduce their health-care costs.

The companies are to be applauded for their efforts, and I believe they will yield some impressive results, but I prefer Big Blue's approach. This is because instead of relying on a central database, it seeks to establish a communications network among a number of different medical database systems.

One advantage of such a system is that if an employee leaves a company, the network will be able to deliver their medical records wherever they go, rather than making someone else transfer records to a new database.

IBM's system is only being tested in a small pilot program of seven hospitals and 24 doctors' offices. But if it works, it could not only shorten those uncomfortable waits in the doctor's office -- it could also lengthen IBM's profits by giving the company access to a segment of the economy that is desperately in need of improvement.

The system is just one more reason I think IBM is the best blue chip of 2007. If you disagree, feel free to register your opinion in CAPS, The Motley Fool's stock-ranking and investing intelligence database.

Interested in other IBM-related Foolishness? Check out these articles:

3M, Wal-Mart, and Dell are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Dell is also a Stock Advisor selection.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is currently ranked 10,689 out of 20,838 in CAPS. He owns stock in IBM. The Fool's disclosure policy is sorry, Dave, it's afraid it can't do that.


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