Patient health record makeover: Digital biographies

Personal Health Record
Could digital health biographies solve some of the problems plaguing EHRs? Image: Getty/Pandpstock001

Physicians are quick to point out the inefficiencies of electronic health records (EHRs) and patients don’t always have easy access to the full scope of their health information. One solution: Digital health biographies. 

It's no secret that physicians are dissatisfied with EHRs, with the vast majority reporting usability concerns. But an economist with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a practicing OB-GYN in California are advocating for a transition toward digital health biographies (DHBs) that would provide more useful information to physicians, integrate mHealth data and allow patients have more control of their health information, according to an op-ed in RealClear Health.

DHBs differ from EHRs in several key ways. Patients, rather than physicians or hospital systems, would own the information within their DHB, which would integrate information from various providers as well as data from mHealth apps and wearable devices. Each patient would have just one DHB, and machine learning capabilities would pull relevant health data for physicians and patients alike.  

But a successful transition toward the widespread use of DHBs relies on minimal government intervention. The authors point to the early stages of the internet when marketplace competition created gradually more effective search engines, culminating in high-powered websites such as Yahoo and Google. Similarly, voluntary participation among healthcare providers would force vendors to create products that meet the specific needs of physicians and patients.

“We hope and expect that DHBs, or some similar concept, will help foster an era in which technological innovation can flourish,” the authors wrote. “For this to occur, DHBs will have to compete fiercely to win the hearts and minds of physicians.”

According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, most hospitals offer patients access to their EHR, and surveys show that percentage has increased significantly over the last several years. However, it’s still unclear whether patients are taking advantage of increased access, and doctors have pointed to state laws as an ongoing hindrance.