A cloud computing display at the CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany. (AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach)

Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn. (NYSE:UNH), is launching a service that can help doctors share information about patients over the Internet.

Optum executives are hoping the new “cloud computing” system will accelerate efforts to improve care coordination.

The system stores information and software applications on far-off servers. Users can get to the servers with any device that can reach the Internet, including cell phones and iPad computers as well as desktop computers.

Optum’s cloud system includes patient-tracking tools, such as an app that can give a doctor automatic updates on a hospitalized patient’s condition and an app that can notify a doctor when a patient fails to fill prescriptions or goes to the emergency room, a company spokesman said.

Currently, most doctors have to rely on patients to tell them when they visit another physician or the ER.

Optum worked with Cisco, IBM and Hewlett-Packard Company among others, to design the cloud, and it is encouraging physicians to design their own applications to supplement Optum’s own Optum Care Suite apps.

Government agencies and private insurers have been organizing major new care coordination projects in recent months in an effort to cut the cost of care and improve the quality.

Last month, WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis (NYSE:WLP), said it will boost primary care reimbursement  to pay for care management services.

Some care providers also are forming “accountable care organizations” (ACOs), entities that are supposed to get primary care doctors, specialists and hospitals to work more smoothly together by giving them a financial stake in the ACO’s performance.

Cloud computing platforms first started appearing in health care a few years ago, said Lisa Gallagher, senior director of privacy and security at Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), Chicago. She said about 30% of health care providers now use some form of cloud computing.

Care coordination currently is left mostly to patients and patients’ families, said Dr. Ann O’Malley, a researcher with the Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington.

“Right now, coordination is horrible in this country for the most part,” O’Malley said.

- alb