Health & Fitness

Joe Kanter’s goal: Global health record database

Joseph Kanter
Joseph Kanter credit

Joe Kanter calls himself the godfather of health IT.

Kanter, a retired real estate developer who lives in Los Angeles and Miami, has invested more than $10 million and hundreds of hours to improve public health.

His goal: to create a global electronic health record system that would give doctors and patients easy access to data about treatment for thousands of health issues.

Kanter calls it the Learning Health System (LHS). He believes it could make thousands of patient experiences useful beyond one hospital or one office by centralizing information on specific diseases and which treatment worked best. One person’s success with high blood pressure medication could potentially save someone else time and money.

“We need to keep in the clouds a database just for the purpose of cures,” said Kanter, 91, a World War II veteran who developed housing for veterans and others after the war. “It’s going to start first with the mechanics of getting over this standardized records. Without standardized records and without the legal requirement that people share [information], there’s no business entrepreneurship.”

To accelerate the process, Kanter is holding a global webinar and bringing together the top medical and health IT minds in a think-tank day session on Friday. The focus will be on how to build a national healthcare learning system.

The U.S. government and Congress attempted to standardize health records in 2009. Their initial efforts proved successful in getting hospitals and medical offices to adopt electronic health records, but most systems can’t share information with other programs.

His idea would be to reform the electronic data system so that every patient’s records could be shared anonymously. It’s similar to the 10-year health information exchange that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) announced in 2014.

The ONC’s plan is to create the national database by 2024; Kanter wants to create the database within the next two to five years.

“It’s being done, but it’s going very slowly,” he said.

Today, most doctors use anecdotal experience, plus research, to treat their patients. It’s how Kanter was treated by his own doctor more than 20 years ago after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was told to get a biopsy, but decided to get a second opinion instead.

“It’s not sufficient,” Kanter said. “I want the opinion of all the doctors.”

The second opinion for treatment saved his life, he says. Through that experience came the idea of the database. But a database of health records didn’t exist in the 1990s.

To change that, Kanter put his foundation, the Joseph H. Kanter Family Foundation, to work. The foundation has been working with medical and health IT stakeholders to push for the creation of the global database.

“Everybody is now coming up with a road map, but they missed something,” Kanter said. “What they need is a manual to start with standardized records, to make sure the doctors are all asking the same questions and it goes into the same place.”

If you go

What: Leadership Conference: Connecting the Accomplishments toward the Learning Health System and Accelerating our Progress Together in 2015

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Friday

Where: Online.

Info: Send an email to or register at