Pressing deeper into an increasingly popular business area for banks, Huntington Bancshares Inc. plans to offer an electronic data pipeline soon to health care providers.

Leveraging its expertise in electronic data interchange technology, the Columbus, Ohio-based banking company is creating an integrated delivery system to transfer both financial and medical information through a single computerized conduit.

This electronic channel is designed to strengthen health care providers' relationships with financial institutions and to streamline communication by cutting down on paperwork.

The bank partnered with Unisys Corp. to develop this information delivery route, which is supposed to be available in 1995.

Huntington National Bank has been fashioning itself as a "health care bank" through this and other recent forays into the medical market.

The bank was recently selected to handle the accounts for a large group of Ohio doctors calling themselves Toledo Area Health Partners Ltd. Huntington officials have been eager to spotlight the arrangement.

"This gave us another opportunity to increase this line of business," according to James Dunlap, a senior vice president at Huntington National Bank.

The bank's relationship with Toledo Area Health Partners, in turn, may provide a viable test of the new electronic information system, Mr. Dunlap said. But he could not confirm whether the group would definitely be involved.

Huntington is striving to improve the "connectivity in clinical and financial data bases," Mr. Dunlap said.

He said he sees this as a step toward health care reform and believes that private industry, including banks, will play a broad role in managing such reform -- an effort that has proven a tar baby for the federal government.

"Currently, I'd have to say this is a relatively small revenue stream," Mr. Dunlap said. "But this is 14% of the gross domestic product of this country."

Many forward-thinking bankers and service providers have been seeking to build a greater niche for themselves in the health care industry.

By wooing specialized customers -- mostly by providing services designed expressly for their businesses -- banks hope to gain a solid foothold in a lucrative market that seems open to improvement.

"The hook, I think, is that health care is notorious for its paperwork and its collection problems and the lag time between the service being providing and getting the money in the door," said Randy Hutchinson, a consultant with the Tiber Group, a Chicago-area health care consulting group.

"The full package of electronic commerce services is where the true value is unleashed," he continued. "I don't know where this will put the financial institutions."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.