Bosworth sheds some light on a grand experiment

By now you know my feeling about untethered personal health records. It's not so much that I don't like PHRs, it's that I don't like the hype surrounding them. Untethered records--not tied to a specific healthcare organization--are not going to take off until there is accurate, clinically verifiable data to populate such records and until patients truly have control over such data.

Wouldn't you know, the PHR news just keeps on coming. Microsoft and Siemens have inked a deal to bring HealthVault to Germany, marking the first extension of that personal health information platform into Europe. Another PHR platform called Indivo X surfaced last week when programmers released the source code for that open-source project.

And today in Washington, Adam Bosworth spoke to the mHealth Initiative conference about his Keas PHR product, now in beta testing. Admittedly, I was skeptical.

Bosworth, who headed up early Google Health development before parting ways with the search-engine giant more than two years ago, talked about the trials and tribulations of his fledgling company. Most of the failures sounded awfully similar to problems that have plagued other PHRs. There's no reliable data.

Keas has a partnership with Quest Diagnostics to populate patient records with laboratory data, but Bosworth said but Keas and Quest are disappointed with the data throughput rate. The problem, according to Bosworth, is that physicians aren't clicking on the "send results" button to allow Quest to release results to patients electronically. I imagine that's largely due to the fact that few physicians are using EMRs that would even allow them to see that option without having to log into a Quest portal.

Bosworth also acknowledged the ugly truth. "Very few users are going to come back to our website every day to fill out a questionnaire," he said. Enter mobile technology--and the justification for Bosworth speaking at a mobile healthcare conference. Patients on an aspirin regimen, for example, can sign up for reminders and get a daily text message. Respond with a simple 'yes' or 'no,' and the answer goes into the PHR, which tracks compliance on a graph.

He also acknowledged a truism about business. "The great thing about running a startup is you can re-launch your product every three weeks," Bosworth said, half-jokingly.

Indeed, changing a PHR that's still in beta isn't going to result in a New Coke kind of consumer backlash. Call it an experiment. Just don't call it a panacea. - Neil