Why Should Consumers Care About 'Open Health' Software Solutions

Health care provider organizations and computer specialists have begun to understand the benefits of using 'open' health IT solutions. However, most consumers still have no clue why this should be of any concern to them. Here are some key points that need to be communicated to health care consumers:

• Consumers ought to establish and start using a free and open source personal health record (PHR). It's as important as your online personal bank account. In fact, your health may be more important to you than your money. How many times have you needed to know what prescriptions you're on, shots you had, surgical procedures, allergies, family medical histories, and more.
• Consumers ought to make sure their doctor's office is using an electronic health record (EHR) system. It's a sign of your doctor's commitment and ability to practice high quality modern medicine. Are they still handing you a clip board and asking you to check boxes related to you health? Do they have lots of paper files on the shelf behind the receptionist? If they have automated your bill payment, why not your health records.
• What is a health information exchange (HIE) network and why is it needed? You need an HIE to move data from your health care provider's EHR to your PHR. An HIE network can be used to enable email and information exchange between doctors and their patients. Every state and health care community should be connected to an HIE network.
• Today's consumers need access to mobile health apps to help you with specific medical problems or health issues, e.g. diabetes, weight, blood pressure, etc.  Many of these mobile health apps are now available for free and work on most vendor's smartphones.
• Consumers also need access to free, high quality health information & education materials, especially as we move into an era of preventive medicine and self-care.  Free open source tools and public domain data are key to enabling this. Many of these tools, web sites, and information sources are already available.
• Finally, consumers need access to online public health information that can provide information on such topics as:  the closest hospital or emergency room; cancer clusters in your area; geographic maps showing the status of spreading flu or epidemics; potential environmental hazards in your neighborhood; and much more.  Again, these should be free, online systems using public domain data sources. 

Links to selected 'open' Personal Health Record (PHR) systems:

My Family Health Portrait
Google Health
iHealth Record
MS HealthVault 
My HealtheVet

Links to selected Health Information for Patients & Providers:

AAFP FamilyDoctor
American Medical Association (AMA)
iTriage Health
HHS HealthFinder.Gov
National Clinical Guidelines Clearinghouse
NCI Cancer.Gov
NLM MedLine Plus

Have you started using a Personal Health Record (PHR) system? A free consumer health information web site? Tell us about the best of them out there.