An Uncertain Prognosis for Personal Health Records

John Moore | Federal Computer Week | May 3, 2011

Health IT adoption has been a frustratingly slow, tough slog, and that is especially true for personal health records. PHRs have so far gone the way of electronic health records (EHRs): an initial splash of attention followed by glacially slow adoption. PHR technology emerged about a decade ago and, by most accounts, remains far from achieving wide public acceptance. However, prospects might be brightening.

The federal government has had an early stake in PHRs. The Veterans Affairs Department started dabbling with them as early as 2003, with its My HealtheVet program. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) launched its first PHR pilot program in 2006 and this year will wrap up two such programs.

PHRs would seem to have intuitive appeal because they promise individuals greater control over their personal medical data. But industry executives say a number of shortcomings have discouraged adoption. For one thing, PHRs tend to lack interactive features that would make them more compelling, such as the ability to schedule appointments or contact doctors. The dearth of online records also inhibits uptake.

Specifically, the modest growth of EHRs limits the amount of data a PHR can draw on. “Without a robust EHR, there is no way to feed a PHR,” said Jason Fortin, senior research analyst at CSC’s Emerging Practices Group.


EHR & PHR Systems Are Here to Stay

It's always good to raise issues and challenges, but EHR and PHR systems are here to stay. They will continue to evolve and spread over the coming decade. Crucial to the overall picture is the implementation of NHIN, a growing network of state and local health information exchange (HIE) systems. The long range potential benefits to individuals, the country, and the world will be tremendous. It's like watching Visa as it spread in the financial and eCommerce arena over the past 30 years. Now its happening in in the eHealth arena.